Long Distance Delivery

Jim Markham

January 1, 2002

The Alliance Pipeline and Aux Sable Liquid Products Plant provide a long term and much needed solution in the delivery, refinement and marketing of natural gas products in the United States. Completed in 2000, the Aux Sable Plant is strategically located to access large markets, particularly those in the Midwest that are frequently supply constrained. Located in Morris, Ill., 50 miles southwest of Chicago, the plant allows better economic use of the the major national gas fields in northern British Columbia. Aux Sable is the final destination for refining natural gas from these fields. Built simultaneously with Aux Sable, the Alliance Pipeline is more than 2,000 miles long, connecting the fields to one of the largest natural gas liquids (NGL) processing facilities in the Americas.

The Luse-Stevenson Co. of Chicago was fortunate to have a major role in this challenging venture. This article outlines the history and discusses the unique insulation requirements that were faced during construction.

The Dream Becomes Reality

NGL products (Ethane, Propane, normal Butane, Iso-Butane and natural gasoline) are plentiful in the northern territory. But the question was how to overcome the transportation costs and economics that had hindered the use of these valuable national resources. The Alliance Pipeline and Aux Sable Plant were built to answer such feasibility questions. The Aux Sable Plant is owned and financed by several large players in the energy/corporate community, including Costal Corporation, Enbridge Inc., Fort Chicago Energy Partners LP, the Williams Companies, Inc., and Westcoast Energy, Inc.

Needless to say, a project of this scope presented considerable engineering and design considerations. The price tag wasn’t going to be cheap, either-$4 billion for the pipeline and more than $365 million for the refinery. Also, an environmental impact and analysis needed to be completed. The pipeline, owned and operated by Alliance Pipeline LP, begins as a 42-inch main buried underground for nearly the entire 2,290 mile length. Before the pipeline could be built, the project had to be approved by federal, state and local jurisdictions of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the state environmental protection agencies of North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, along with local jurisdictions. When the pipeline application was filed with FERC in 1998 by Aux Sable and Alliance Pipeline L.P., an environmental analysis was also required. It included a non-jurisdictional review of these facilities, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Since the pipeline would cross mountains, riverbeds, farm fields and wild life reserves, these areas would need to be restored to their original condition. Process systems were required to be engineered and designed for long-term safe operations.

The Aux Sable Plant is located on land that once housed a natural gas facility, long since decommissioned and demolished. The use of this land shows that new economic benefits to the community can be accomplished through effectively planned re-use of previously disturbed land. Employment opportunities for local residents, coupled with an increased tax base for municipalities also made the reuse of the land parcel very attractive.

Project Profile and Statistics

The joint Alliance Pipeline and Aux Sable Plant Project was the largest construction undertaking completed in North America during 1999 and 2000. The project was a massive undertaking that combined a team effort of investors, engineers, construction managers, international unions, contractors and craft workers.

The pipeline runs 2,290 miles, flows through eight compressor stations before it reaches the end destination at the Aux Sable extraction and fractionation facility. The plant is currently designed to process 1.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. It’s initially expected to recover 80,000 barrels per day of NGL derivatives, with one barrel equaling 42 U.S. gallons or 159 liters.

The extraction component consists of:

  • Two extraction trains, each with the capacity of processing over 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

The fractionation component includes:

  • A de-ethanizer: for recovering ethane for petrochemical feedstock

  • A de-propanizer: for recovering propane for farming, industrial, commercial, automotive and retail requirements (Propane is also used for home and industrial heating, crop drying, cooking and motor fuel.)

  • A de-butanizer and butane splitter: for recovering butanes and natural gasoline for gasoline line blending

All NGL can be used in the petrochemical industry as a feedstock for the production of ethylene propylene, butadiene and other derivatives. These intermediate compounds form the raw materials for end use products such as polyethylene, rubber, plastics, solvents and foam materials. The more severe the weather patterns in the region (i.e. heating fuel consumption) and the higher the degree of economic activity in the manufacturing sector, the stronger the demand is for NGL.

On site spheres can store 200,000 barrels of NGL product. Truck and rail car loading racks are constructed for movement to end market sales distribution.

Aux Sable Plant Construction

The Cleveland office of Morrison-Knudsen Corp. (MK), presently known as The Washington Group, was retained to manage the facility’s construction. Delta Hudson Engineering Ltd. of Calgary, Alberta, a well-known designer of NGL facilities, provided the engineering and procurement expertise for the facility. Luse-Stevenson was selected as the insulation contractor for the project.

Site preparation and clean up began in March of 1999, and completed (with product off to market) just less than two years later, in February 2001. Union contractors spent more than two million person at the site to build the project.

The construction activities at Aux Sable peaked with more than 1,000 craft workers. The project required specialized union labor from all of the industrial supportive crafts. Luse-Stevenson had more than 100 craft insulators working at the peak of construction. Chicago Local 17 provided craftworkers, but the heavy demand for skilled labor required even more workers. Local 17 worked hand-in-hand with Luse to deliver craft workers from various areas of the country. The project was performed under a local building trades agreement, creating a win/win situation for owner, management and local union interests.

As is the case in most projects of this magnitude, there was a 2-1/2 hour safety orientation geared specifically to the site. This orientation was conducted for all craft, management and vendors who would be present on the site for construction activities. On their first day at the site, employees were screened for drugs and alcohol. A Morrison-Knudsen nurse and first aid station were available to all contractors for initial/minor medical attention. Also, each contractor was required to have a full time safety professional with degree credentials to support a safe job site.

Key Construction Features

The Aux Sable Plant is comprised of a vast array of modular equipment and pressure vessels fabricated and assembled off-site. The two types of modules used were:

  • Pipe rack modules consisting of two to three levels of pipe and one level of electrical trays. Rack modules weighed 150 to 200 tons each and were an average of 22 feet wide by 30 feet high by 120 feet long.

  • Equipment modules containing vessels, pumps, exchangers with interconnecting pipe, electrical, instrumentation, insulation and platforms were also included and assembled at off site locations. Due to the size of some modules, barges were used to deliver the equipment. Either a "jack lift" system or large conventional cranes and crawler-tail cranes were used to off load, transport and erect the systems.
Insulation Contracting / Construction Phase

The project was one of the largest that Luse-Stevenson has undertaken to date. Peak site head count was as follows:

  • more than 100 craft workers

  • two general superintendents and four to six area foremen

  • a full time safety professional

  • two full time site assigned project managers

  • office labor and management support

The nature of the project included:

  • process skids pre-insulated (cross connections field installed)

  • modules of pipe rack pre-insulated (adjoining connections field installed)

  • vessels in various stages of insulation completion

  • field fabricated large and small-bore pipe requiring insulation.

The project required two on-site managers. One handled base contract while the second handled emergent work, module repairs and scope additions. Likewise, Luse-Stevenson’s two key superintendents were split on hard line duties of base versus emergent scope work.

The base contract consisted of insulating a total of 52,000 lineal feet of pipe. A significant amount of scope increases were identified soon after Luse-Steveneson’s mobilization. Due to project shipping and execution requirements, many of the skids/modules arrived on site with insulation systems partially complete. Several sea vans full of fabricated and tagged insulation components, originally intended to be applied off-site at the fabricator, were requisitioned to Luse by Morrison-Knudsen field construction. Inventories were done of these sea vans and they were eventually staged to each module for the completion of each system. Module piping and components were also electronically traced at the fabricator’s site, with the insulator initiating the megger test prior to completing the insulation application.

The project required nearly 25 semi truck loads of pipe insulation. Materials used included calcium silicate, mineral wool and cellular glass. Mineral wool was used exclusively for sound attenuation along with "safety green" sound absorbing aluminum jacketing on the dual compressor systems.

Cyrogenic systems in the two extraction trains required, in some cases, a triple layer of cellular glass at severely cold operating temperatures. Emergent work was identified in the pipe rack modules, as tie-in efforts discovered a lack of mastic joint sealant on pipes ranging upwards of 36 inch IPS x 8 inch thick. Luse-Stevenson insulators were employed to dismantle fabricator insulated systems for substantial repair needs. Jacketing was removed and re-used, multiple layers of cellular glass were removed, "buttered" at the joints and re-installed. The majority of original installation proved to work effectively, therefore, a contingency plan of 15 percent cellular glass was ordered to offset breakage and stress fractures.

Luse-Stevenson Pre-Planning and Project Management

In any business, it’s easy to underestimate the value of thorough and methodical pre-planning. This became very apparent to Luse-Stevenson management as we began to develop processes upon embarking on a total quality mission.

Employees and ownership must all be committed to continuous improvement of operating methods. At Luse-Stevenson, processes have been developed that include standardization, effective training techniques for both new and long-standing employees and documentation/communication techniques. Methods for pre-job planning, determining customer expectations, project reporting and cost control are also key issues that are developed and maintained.

Project controls are critical on an endeavor of this size. Controls for cost containment, site material inventory, procurement scheduling and progress reporting are demanded by all clients as they become sophisticated in these areas. Luse used Excel and Access software spreadsheets, charts and graphs to deliver complete and accurate reports to the Aux Sable/Morrison-Knudsen team. We have found that both spread sheets (numerical computations) and visual presentations are very effective.

Luse-Stevenson utilized its project management process to control the project. The process, which has been used for six years, was developed by a team of project managers and superintendents. Pre-planning is the main focus, along with project labor "phasing" by process system and/or area. The process calls for excellence in not only planning and executing the work, but also for safety performance, document control, client communications and reporting.

An extremely valuable asset to the team was Aux Sable’s construction knowledge of similar plants in the past. A facility of this nature had not been constructed in the United States. Canadian knowledge and experience gave forethought and valuable knowledge to the entire program.

Completion Equals Celebration

The culmination of hard work was recognized by the ownership of Alliance Pipeline and Aux Sable. There were three separate celebrations across North America. The first was in Calgary upon the release of flow for the first raw product natural gas into the system.

This event was then relayed via a function at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium in early December 2000. The black-tie affair was attended by pipeline and plant ownership, federal, state, local and municipality officials, plant executives, attorneys, engineers and contractors. A film presentation of the initial start-up scene in the Calgary control room was shown in both of the planetarium’s "Starviewing" theaters. The presentation also detailed the project from the dream, to the planning, engineering, regulatory approval, construction activities, and plant operations at the final destination, Aux Sable.

Guests were in for a treat as each state that the pipeline passed through was represented at a food station; with specialties such as Iowa corn fed beef, Illinois pork and Dakota wild rice were served to the guests as food indigenous to each state.

The final event occurred later in December in Washington, D.C., where many additional contributors and involved parties were entertained and thanked for their participation in this huge undertaking.

The plant is up and running nearing its third quarter of operation. The dream has became a reality.