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Pipeline drilling under way beneath All-American

May 09, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE
  • Bryan Reiley, a wildlife biologist for Foster Wheeler Environmental, shows a horned lizard to archaeologist Raven Garvey on Wednesday while monitoring construction of the Baja Pipeline in eastern Imperial County.
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Staff Writer

FELICITY — Just south of the Center of the World here, a bunch of guys in hard hats, some covered in grease, operated a directional drilling rig boring a 12-inch-wide hole 50 feet beneath the bottom of the All-American Canal.

The drillers punched through to the south side of the canal Wednesday.

In the next few days, the workers from Brownsville, Wisc.-based Michels Pipeline Construction Inc., will add bigger drill bits, or reamers, and re-bore the 12-inch hole until it reaches a diameter of 52 inches.

The "pilot hole" where the workers operated the drill and other heavy machinery was about 200 yards from the north bank of the All-American.

North of the drilling, more workers in hard hats welded sections of 30-inch wide pipeline to make a 2,000-foot stretch that will be pulled through the finished hole once it is wide enough.

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The team has already finished a similar job, boring a 54-inch hole beneath the Colorado River late last month and running a pipeline through.

Kathy Russeth, a spokeswoman for Portland, Ore.-based North Baja Pipeline, said the drilling operations are "two biggies" that North Baja decided to complete before ramping up the main construction work associated with building its natural gas pipeline.

The 80-mile U.S. stretch of the North Baja Pipeline will connect a new compressor station in Ehrenberg, Ariz., with an under-construction pipeline running from the desert east of Mexicali to Tijuana.

Natural gas carried by the pipeline will fuel at least two power plants in Mexicali that have drawn criticism from Imperial County officials because one of the plants will not equip two turbines with California-complaint emissions controls.

The county has sued the State Lands Commission because it did not take into consideration the potential for air pollution when it approved construction of the pipeline. That lawsuit is pending.

Until there is a ruling against the commission, North Baja will build a pipeline running from Ehrenberg, beneath the Colorado River, underneath some areas of Blythe, south under rocky desert areas, past Gold Rock near Ogilby Road, below Interstate 8 and then beneath the All-American to the border.

While construction workers are dredging up land or burying pipeline, environmental monitors will look for desert tortoises, archeological resources or flat-tailed horned lizards before the workers get to a particular area and during the actual construction. Others will make sure the work site is kept clean and safe.

On Wednesday one of the monitors found a lizard wandering near the pipeline. Days before one of the monitors spotted and removed a tortoise from the pipeline right of way, according to project lead environmental inspector Kurt Katsura.

To help everyone associated with the pipeline recognize rare animals or archeological resources, North Baja has printed flash cards featuring pictures of animals and information. The goal is to make sure as little as possible is harmed or destroyed during construction, Russeth said.

To make that goal a reality, almost one of every three workers employed on pipeline construction is a monitor of some sort, she said. They are an eclectic mix of archeologists, biologists and geologists.

The rest of the workers on the pipeline are guys who have drilled through solid rock at precarious angles or beneath deep rivers, according to drill rig operator John Edmunds.

He's the man in charge of driving the drill, making sure it goes where it's supposed to go.

When the team hit a "bullseye" Wednesday he was the man to congratulate. In drilling terms a "bullseye" is hitting the mark after long directional drills.

Edmunds wasn't satisfied with his bullseye, though. He said the mark was 18 inches off where he was supposed to be and he blamed himself for moving one of the wires that allows him to guide the drill where it's supposed to go.

"If it wasn't for that it'd been perfect," he said.

Before the door closed on the control room and Edmunds got back to work, the question had to be asked.

Would Edmund's workers be the team that NASA would call if a huge meteor was hurtling toward earth and drillers were needed to bore a hole and plant a nuclear device in that hole to blow up the meteor.

Edmunds laughed but said, "You know what, I've never seen that show."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or aclaverie@aol.com

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