April 2019, Vol. 246, No. 4


VNG Busy Modernizing Pipeline Infrastructure

By Michael Reed, Managing Editor

As with many other natural gas providers, Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) faces the twin challenge of replacing aging pipeline in congested areas, where rights-of-way are also frequently overflowing with multiple other utilities’ infrastructure.

Obviously, such an undertaking involves a great deal of technical know-how and complex planning, but that doesn’t mean the basics of on-site study and observation can be overlooked. 


“We walk the job site prior to the start of each and every project, so we know the best approach to take for design and, of course, construction,” said Amanda Bouchonville, lead engineer of VGN’s Save Program, which handles the company’s replacement projects. “Of course, we always contact Virginia 811 to mark everything and make adjustments as needed.”

With roots that stretch back to 1850, VNG serves more than 300,000 customers in southeastern Virginia, including Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Williamsburg counties, so it covers a lot of territory.

SAVE, the company’s multi-year modernization plan approved by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, began in 2012 and has renewed 260 miles of gas mains to date. In 2018, VNG installed 50 miles of pipeline with plans for another 40-45 miles this year.

Workers at one of the sites where VNG will install 40-45 miles of replacement pipeline this year. (Photo: VNG)

Plastic and steel pipe is being used in renewal projects to take the place of first-generation plastics that were installed prior to 1985 and steel pipe that pre-dates 1972. Recently, the remaining 1.25 mile of cast iron in the system was replaced, and the last low-pressure system was retired.

“As stewards of the environment, we also take great care in implementing the best construction practices to protect trees and plants in the communities where we work. Upon project completion, the worksite will be restored to its pre-construction condition,” Bouchonville said. 

In order to minimize traffic disruptions from the ongoing work, VNG uses directional boring, when feasible, such as under roadways. This avoids the need for open trenches across roads and other surfaces. However, some temporarily street closures and other inconveniences do occur. 

“We work closely with our business partners to inform them of future plans, so as our programs expand, they can also expand and prepare for the future workload,” Bouchonville said. 

Additionally, fact sheets for each project appear on a dedicated page of the VNG website along with a hotline for questions. A month prior to construction, customers in the affected neighborhoods are mailed letters that provide an overview of the work.

“Before construction begins, we go door-to-door and hang a door tag with a ‘work-in-your-neighborhood’ notice that includes the project manager’s information, so they have someone to contact directly, if they have a question,” she said. 

The size of pipe being replaced by VNG ranges from 2 to 12 inches in diameter. Scheduling the work involves meeting with municipalities quarterly and keeping up to date with other utilities.  

“We have methods of getting in touch with other utilities,” Bouchonville said, citing a March project in Norfolk that will precede a city project by only a short interval. “It means no one has to go into freshly paved roads.”  

As with other parts of the country, every entity is different when it comes time to obtain work permits. 

“Specifically, larger roads have more limited hours,” she said. “If we are going to have too much impact on an area, we do it as night work.”

Bouchonville, who has a degree in civil engineering with a minor in environmental engineering, grew up in the area and was raised in a house with natural gas, so it wasn’t too farfetched for her to work for the local gas company. 

“Before VNG, I worked in the nuclear field, so it wasn’t a stretch to go from one energy source to the next,” she said. “But what I like about gas is it’s tangible – I can see the pipelines we are designing and installing.”  

Despite the hectic nature of her job, the Old Dominion graduate said she has confidence in the abilities of both the VNG employees and contractors she works with, which makes her life much easier. 

“For that reason, I sleep pretty soundly at night,” Bouchonville said. P&GJ 

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