March 2021 Vol. 76 No. 3


1960s: Record-Setting Projects, Game-Changing Technology

75th Anniversary

The boom of the 1950s carried over into the next decade, but not entirely or evenly. 

While hitting peaks in some months, crude oil pipeline construction in the U.S. totaled 7,332 miles by decade-end – slightly more than half of the 13,756 miles during the 1950s and about equal to the 1940s’ 7,103 miles. 

Natural gas, however, consistently set construction records throughout the 1960s, ending with 1.851 million miles of distribution pipeline, versus 1.2 million miles in the 1950s. 

Amidst this activity, Pipeline Construction continued to offer the most comprehensive, versatile coverage of the industry, focused on maintaining editorial integrity and supplying critical information to contractors, utilities and engineering personnel. 

Project highlights 

Project stories that detailed what was achieved and how, were particularly valuable in preparing contractors to offer innovative and practical solutions to the increasingly complex conditions and challenges encountered. 

In 1960, for example, Mid-America Pipeline Co. began work on a 2,317-mile; 6-, 8- and 10- inch LPG system from Eunice, Texas, to McPherson, Kan., and then to towns in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The $71,643,250 project also included 18 automatically controlled pump stations. 

A 1,400-mile, 26-inch, Alberta-­to-California pipeline was under construction in 1961, for customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and involved more than 20 river crossings in Canada and Western U.S. The longest and deepest crossing was a 2,200-foot wide, 70-foot-deep stream at the Pend Oreille River in Idaho. Another arduous job at the Snake River crossing in Washington required dynamiting the entire  
1,700-foot distance. 

Feats in 1963 included Gulf Oil Corp.’s large-diameter pipeline that extended farther and deeper into the Gulf of Mexico than any previously constructed. Meanwhile, Shell Oil Co. was having one of the country’s largest brackish source-water supply systems constructed to serve 45 waterflood units in West Texas. 

The largest project that year was Northern Natural Gas Co.’s construction of a $30-million, 365- mile, 26-inch line from gas fields near Kermit, Texas, to connect with its main line near Beaver, Okla. With already-pending applications for 700 miles of line connecting its system to 50 communities in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the company had a total of $80 million in new facilities. 

In 1965, Halvorson & Lentz Construction Co., of Seattle, won a contract for 12.4 miles of 6- and 8-inch pipeline across the Grand Canyon that was estimated to need about 2,000 bends. 

International involvement 

Although focused on the North American underground construction industry, Pipeline Construction also reported on significant influences and involvement of the booming international market. 

Projects included the 1960 completion of Britain’s longest crude pipeline. More than 10,000, 25-foot lengths of 18-inch steel pipe were capable of carrying 5 million tons of crude per year some 60 miles across South Wales linking British Petroleum’s tanker terminal near Angle Bay, Milford Haven, with its Llandarcy refinery. 

That same year, work was scheduled to start in Russia on the world's longest pipeline: a 2,790-mile line extending from central Russia, through the Ukraine and into Byelorussia, where it divided into East Germany, and Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Until its completion in 1963, the longest oil pipeline in the world was the 20-inch, 1,475-mile Texas-New York “Little Inch.” 

The world’s longest, continuous underwater pipeline pull occurred in 1961 during construction of a 99-mile, 30-inch pipeline to deliver crude from Iran's Gach Saran oil field to sea-loading platforms in the Persian Gulf. The 19-mile underwater section was built by International Marine Construction, C.A., using specialized equipment and personnel under an agreement with Collins Construction Co. of  
Port Lavaca, Texas. 

In 1963, Pipeline Construction reported on the South European Pipeline, a 500-mile, 34-inch crude line extending from the  
oil port of Lavera, near Marseilles, to a new refinery near the French/ German border. The line increased France’s existing pipeline network by 25 percent. 

Pacific Corporation Ltd. completed Australia’s first crude oil line – a 190-mile-long, 10-inch-diameter pipeline from the 15-well Moonie Field to a terminal at Lytton, near Brisbane.The next year, bids were being taken on building the 869-mile, large-diameter line to tap reserves in Holland’s Groningen field. Within weeks of the announcement, H. C. Price Jr. of Bartlesville, Okla, and United Bredero N.V., of  
The Netherlands, formed a company to coat and wrap pipe for European clients and opened a coating plant in The Hague. 

Construction launched in 1965 on a record-setting, 40-inch-diameter, 2,123-mile steel pipeline to carry gas from Central Asia to the center of the Soviet Union, Moscow. It also represented the first time a line was laid across a territory that was two-thirds complete or semi­desert. 

Technology evolution 

Technology also continued as a major factor on the pages of Pipeline Construction, with information on the latest, most-effective and economical methods of completing construction projects and overcoming challenges. 

Pipe manufacturing, for example, underwent significant improvements. In 1960, Natural Steel Corp. began producing and marketing new, higher-strength steel for natural gas pipeline applications. Trade named GTX-W, the pipe could be welded in sub-zero temperatures without the need for any preparation or special welding techniques 

A new type of high-yield, thin-wall pipe made by A.O. Smith Corp. used steel containing the relatively rare chemical element, columbium, which offered an ultimate yield of 60,000 pounds, with only 0.250-inch wall thickness. 

Also in 1960, a Bevel-Land machine, designed and manufactured by H. & M. Pipe Beveling Machine Co., reconditioned pipe in less time. Atlas Pipe Inc. used the machine to recondition Mannesmann pipe that had been damaged during its overseas voyage from Germany. Two units, one with a capacity of 8- to 12-inch-diameter pipe, the other taking 14- to 30-inch pipe, were equipped with adjustable clamping members that automatically compensated for pipe-wall thickness. 

The first combination finder/leak detector featuring completely transistorized circuits was developed that year by Fisher Research Laboratory. The transistors extended the average battery life to more than 1,500 hours of continuous operation. Weighing only 12 pounds, the dual-purpose unit was developed for use by water departments, utility, pipeline, and construction companies. 

Caterpillar entered the wheeled Traxcavator market, introducing three new models ranging from 85 to 145 net horsepower. And the world's largest mechanical cleaning machine – for 24- through 42-inch pipe – was developed by Remco Manufacturing Co., Tulsa, Okla. 

By 1962, foamed plastic was finding its way into pipeline construction, when Tejas Plastics Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, began marketing a contoured ditch pad for use in lieu of sandbags or dirt benches. Although initially protecting pipe against damage from rock fragments, it was later used as a pad, placed on top of skids, to protect coated pipe being skidded along the ditch. 

Brown & Root Inc., Houston, placed a pipe trenching dredge into service to bury marine pipelines and cables in 125 feet of water. Designed to operate in conjunction with two of the company's deep-water pipe laying barges, the M-228 relied on high-pressure water jets and a conventional suction dredging attachment to accomplish ditch cutting. 

Advancements in 1963 included a fully automatic inert gas welding unit from Thomas Contracting Co., Houston. In field testing of three models of the machine, for Columbia Gulf Transmission Co., welding time for a 30-inch pipe, the stringer and hot pass, ranged from 2.5 to 3 minutes under ideal conditions. Quality of the welds was reportedly superior to stick electrode welding. 

The year also saw the world's deepest tie-in completed in the Gulf of Mexico for the CATC Group. Key to the project was a special underwater split sleeve coupling used for the tie-in by Brown & Root, Inc., and J & J Divers. 

Pipeline surveying took to the air. Under the aegis of the U.S. Geological Survey, engineers developed the ABC (Airborne Control) System that allowed surveyors to use a hovering helicopter and electronic microwave equipment to measure distances between points many miles apart. 

In 1964, J.J. Case Corporation filed a patent for the first extendible boom that allowed contractors to dig, reach and place items deeper and farther. The company also introduced the first over-center backhoe design with operation and transport advantages. 

Also, Martin Cherrington launched the first HDD rig, as Titan Contractors, Inc., by combining air-drilling principles with guided drilling 

New rock-boring equipment, reported by Pipeline Construction in 1966, could reduce costs for road crossings in rock formation by approximately one half. During a demonstration, the boring head cut a 44-inch-diameter hole through blue limestone at a rate of approximately 2 feet per hour. 

In 1967, the first pre-stressed cryogenic offshore pipeline was built in Maine. The unique offshore refrigerated pipeline system carried liquefied ammonia from tankers anchored 4,800 feet offshore, to an onshore cryogenic storage tank at a chemical plant facility. 

Automatic welding machines were first used in Europe, in 1969, when the Gas Council approved the use of equipment developed by CRC-Crose International Inc., of Houston, to join a gas feeder line in the North Sea. 

Industry insights 

Another Pipeline Construction tradition that continued and evolved was editorial content with news and insights into the industry. 

In 1963, this included reporting on the addition of mandatory requirements for non-destructive methods to detect and eliminate manufacturing defects to API Specification 5L. 

Labor costs and shortages were widely discussed in pipeline circles. Contractors and operating companies were outraged  
over two bills before Congress in March 1964 to increase employee overtime rates to double time. The plans put forth by President Lyndon Johnson were expected to increase pipeline construction costs by 17.65 percent. 

At a special PLCA meeting in mid-1966, the consensus of gas pipeline company representatives and contractors was that if construction work continued at the high peak at the time, a shortage of workers and increased labor costs were likely. 

A May 1967 editorial warned that if passed, S. 1166 would make distribution companies throughout the country accountable to the regulations of a federal agency. Since Nov. 1, 1966, the FPC had required reporting of all transmission pipeline failures, whether or not a death or injury resulted. The onset of the mandatory reporting came only months following a TV interview in which Ralph Nader charged there had been “grossly inadequate inspection procedures by the pipeline companies.” 

In the March 1969 issue, an editorial widely praised the American Gas Association for its role in asking the FP to increase gas prices for producers and provide a better rate of return for gas pipeline companies. 

Pipeline Construction’s December 1969 edition gave readers facts to ponder about U.S. gas demand exceeding supplies,  
with an editorial strongly attacking the FPC for its growing backlog of applications covering more than 5,400 miles of transmission lines. 

As the 1970s dawned, money was tight, and the pipeline construction was in a slump. In 1969, contractors installed 14,133 miles of various size and types of cross-country lines – a 25 percent decrease from 1968. Pipeline companies let longer sections, utilized fewer spreads, and gave contractors more time to complete work.

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