May 2016, Vol. 243, No. 5


St. Louis Gets an Upgrade: Laclede Replaces 235 Miles of Pipelines

In Alabama, Laclede company Alagasco has replaced 81 miles of pipeline during fiscal 2015.

Like many utilities operating in urban areas, The Laclede Group is faced with aging infrastructure.

The company is tackling this challenge head on by undertaking a major upgrade to natural gas distribution systems operated by its three subsidiaries: Laclede Gas in St. Louis, Missouri Gas Energy in Kansas City and Alagasco in Alabama.

The Laclede Group spent nearly $300 million for capital projects in its 2015 fiscal year, of which about $135 million went to pipeline replacement projects for all three utilities. During that time, Laclede Gas replaced 81 miles of pipe in the St. Louis area, 73 miles in the Kansas City area, and 81 miles in Alabama. The company expects to upgrade a similar amount of pipelines in 2016.

St. Louis Program

In St. Louis, Laclede Gas is replacing a low-pressure, cast-iron piping system that is decades old. Many of the residential gas meters on this system were installed inside basements, and this program moves about 100,000 meters outside the homes for easier access for inspections.

“We have a master plan that takes a systematic approach to pipe replacement,” said Craig Hoeferlin, Laclede Group’s vice president of Operations Services, who oversees engineering for the company.

The company assesses several factors, including maintenance history, to determine which areas to replace first. “We only want to be in any particular neighborhood once,” Hoeferlin said. The work is taking place in the city of St. Louis and the inner ring of surrounding suburbs, including Wellston, Pagedale, University City, Maplewood, Clayton and Lemay.

Laclede is replacing larger-diameter cast-iron pipe that operates at a pressure of 0.25 pounds per square inch with smaller diameter polyethylene plastic pipe operating at an industry-standard 60 psi. Performance Pipe is supplying the pipe for the project.

Given the congested nature of the work, the company has opted to use horizontal directional boring technology. This is an environmentally friendly process that allows for the installation of pipelines without the need for open excavations. It reduces overall restoration costs due to the minimal impact on landscaping, yards and paved areas.

Construction Process

A typical St. Louis crew usually consists of four construction employees and a small track excavator, as well as pipe fusion machines and Vermeer horizontal directional boring equipment.

After locating other utility lines, the crew opens a small hole in the street, performs the directional bore, usually about 300 feet, and pulls the new pipe through once the bore is complete. The crew opens small holes in the yard or street in front of each house to bore the service line. The 1-inch service lines are tied into the 2-inch main using fusion or mechanical fittings.

After tie-ins are complete, the new pipe is air-tested to at least 90 psi as required by state and federal regulations. The cast-iron mains will be left in place, as is standard industry practice.

Awareness Campaign

The company created an awareness campaign that includes online advertising through digital video, billboards and bus shelter graphics to inform customers about the upgrade program. (See “Campaign Informs Community, Highlights Employees.”)

In addition to advertising, the company conducts extensive efforts for community engagement. Company representatives meet with St. Louis city officials in advance of construction to detail the program and provide contact information. Crews place door tags on affected houses, and signs at work sites tied back to the ad campaign.

Laclede’s right-of-way department works with the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri Department of Transportation, and other key entities to get all necessary permits, “Coordination with all parties is key,” Hoeferlin said.

In St. Louis, Laclede is using all company crews for construction. Missouri Gas Energy has contracted with Infrasource and Miller Pipeline for pipe replacement work in Kansas City and surrounding areas, while also hiring new in-house crews for the projects.

Author: Chris Horner is a writer in the Midwest who previously served as a long-time editor for Oildom Publishing Co.

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