Volume 13 | Issue 1 | Year 2010

As a result, Welded Construction achieved an industry leading position, as Dan Harvey reports.

In less than 50 years, Welded Construction LP became one of the largest, most successful mainline contractors in the United States. The Perrysburg, Ohio-headquartered enterprise performs pipeline construction, completing projects anywhere in the country while ascending its industry’s highest levels of quality, environmental protection and safety. On the way to the top, Welded tackled its customers’ most demanding scheduling requirements with effective solutions.

The goal-focused Welded Construction evolved from a modestly sized welding subcontractor into an industry pinnacled pipeline contractor. Today, it has surmounted its customers’ most demanding scheduling requirements while successfully managing complex projects that require 48-inch diameter piping. Services offered include construction, project management, budgetary evaluations and feasibilities. These extend from preconstruction to up-and-running operation.

FROM COAST TO COAST
With profound impact upon its industry, Welded Construction spread its considerable capabilities across the nation. That’s the message company President Don Thorn likes to convey. “I’ll tell anyone willing to listen that, in a quarter of a century, we’ve extended ourselves as far east as Maine, as far west as Washington State and, in between, we’ve established a presence as far south as Louisiana.”

Expansion occurred in less than 25 years, and during that relatively brief span, Welded Construction accumulated more than 40,000-inch miles of installation.

Don’t try and do the math. Just take the company’s word that this is an enormous accomplishment in terms of geographic scope and organizational growth. In the meantime, it was able to offer customers three generation’s worth of pipeline construction expertise and experience.

DELIVERING NATURAL GAS RESERVES
One of the ways that Welded Construction realized this sizeable project and geographic expansion was by being available for projects resulting from the increased natural gas exploration. As the company reports, more than a million miles of gas pipe currently exists within U.S borders. This far-reaching linkage of gas supply basins supplies residential, commercial and industrial markets. But, despite recent fears, limits are nowhere within site, thanks to the accessibility of natural gas reserves that Welded Construction mainlines, at least in a metaphorical sense.

“The expansion of the industry market and, in turn, our company growth, is fostered by shale gas exploration driven by recently developed technologies and projects, such as horizontal drilling programs,” describes Thorn. “As such, we’re now seeing an increase in reserves of natural gas.”

Placing this development in historical perspective, Thorn says, “About 35 yeas ago, the industry believed it neared the depletion of its natural gas reserves.

The assessment was way too far premature. Thorn underscores: “Now, the industry is finding a new and abundant supply of clean burning natural gas.”

CLEAN FOSSIL FUEL SOURCE
What’s so important about natural gas and access to previously unexploited reserves? Well, as Welded Construction explains, the resource accounts for about a third of all of gas resources in the United States and, even more, about a quarter of all U.S. energy resources. Natural gas provides the cleanest natural fossil fuel option. Provide more natural gas and you provide a more environmentally viable resource.

So additional accessibility has got to be a good thing – right? Welded Construction thinks so, and for good reason. Appropriately, the company has been involved in recent and current pipeline projects toward this resource. Further, it’s drawing out the resource from the earth in environmentally friendly fashion through the most advanced installations.

SAFETY FOCUSED ORGANIZATION
Obviously, Welded Construction has enormous geographic impact but despite the company’s apparent influence, Thorn likes to address other issues that he feels are equally important.

“We lead by our own example,” he says, specifically referring to the company’s safety culture that not only encompasses environmental commitment but also ensures the protection of all employees. “We offer the safest working conditions, and that is just as important to us as producing an end product that is designed and developed both on schedule and within budget,” says Thorn. “All things combined, we help our clients realize a profit, and the amalgamation of those factors are the main factors that differentiate us from similar competitors.”

The size of the Welded Constructions employee roster depends on its project load. “In 2008, we issued more than 4,500 W2s,” says Thorn. “We’re issuing less for 2009, but it’s around 3,000.”

Welded Construction is a union contractor working under the National Pipeline Agreement as negotiated by the Pipeline Contractors Association, as Thorn points out. The agreement covers the four crafts utilized in pipeline construction: equipment operators, laborers, teamsters, welders and their helpers. The agreement involves the Labor International Union of North America, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters and the International Union of Operating Engineers.

MAJOR PROJECTS
As a cross-country pipeline construction outfit, Welded Construction (as its name implies, welding is one of its greatest strengths), obviously services customers in the oil and gas industry. “Within the energy industry, we serve the major North American companies,” says Thorn. “In fact, if you run down a list of the most important energy pipeline companies, you’re looking at the names of the customers we work with.”

Appropriately, Welded Construction involved itself in some of the most important projects throughout the nation. “As our infrastructure expanded during the course of nearly three decades, we’ve engaged in significant projects, such as the expansion of Pacific Gas and Electric’s electric transmission, which impacts states such as Idaho, Washington and Oregon,” relates Thorn.

Also, Welded Construction involved itself in the expansion of the Great Lakes Gas Transmission energy system, which impacts Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. “It extends from the Canadian border at Minnesota and reaches the Michigan-Ontario border, just north of Detroit,” relates Thorn. “During a five-year period, we did a great deal of work in the Great Lakes region.”

That occurred during the late 1980s. By the next decade, Welded Construction built the Empire pipeline project that extended from the Canadian border, near Buffalo and Niagara Falls (American side) and across Grand Island. “From there, we reached a point north of Syracuse in New York, in a joint undertaking that involved a collaboration with Rochester Gas and Electric.”

Moreover, in 2007-2009, Welded Construction accomplished the underground construction of nearly 335 miles of 42-inch pipe, as part of the Rockies Express Gas Pipe Line system, originated in Colorado, says Thorn. “We built a section from the Kansas-Missouri border, near St. Joseph, Mo., to a point south of Springfield, Ill. We have also been involved with Enbridge Energy, in the expansion of their pipeline system, to move additional Canadian crude oil sands to the US markets.”

GROWTH IN STAGES
While the company truly kicked into high gear in the 1960s, its roots date back to the 1940s. According to Thorn, Welded Construction was originally founded in central Michigan by Harold Fluharty. Hank Mogg took over the business in the 1960s. Both men were veteran pipeline welders. Mogg moved the company to Perrysburg in 1973, and today the company represents a limited partnership between a subsidiary of the San Francisco-headquartered Bechtel Corporation (an international leader in engineering, construction and project management) and Mogg LLC.

The company’s original Midwestern location provided it with a strategic location that fostered growth. Subsequent business developments and location change spurred further growth that gained it entrance into 38 states. In its modern era (which began in the 1960s), the company subsequently attained its high industry standing, in good part, through its multi-step production process. Whether projects entail 100-mile spans or shorter distances, it all begins with linkage to a distribution or storage facility. Whatever length, installation is carefully choreographed to meet production schedules and weather conditions.

No matter the situation, the first step involves creation of an accessible right-of-way. Within an established cleared and graded area, a crew comes in and prepares an appropriate corridor that allows construction equipment to function both safely and efficiently. A further step involves the mechanical excavation of a ditch deep enough for pipe placement. A ditching crew accomplishes this task, and its members often need to drill and blast rock to create the appropriate throughway. At this point, a backfill operation covers the pipe with excavation material. In a subsequent step, once the pipe is delivered in the right-of-way, the contractor “strings” sections of steel pipe along the ditch that had previously been delivered to a central storage location.

Now here is when it truly comes together: The welding crew begins joining (by advanced automatic or semiautomatic welding technology) the steel pipe into one continuous pipeline. When accomplished, all welds are examined by diagnostic technology (X-ray or ultrasonic capabilities) which ensures that pipe joints connect according to project specifications. Once that has been accomplished, pipe sections are cleaned and coated, and the ditch bottom is cleared of remaining rocks and other debris. Then, the pipe is positioned where it finally belongs – that is, it’s lowered into the ditch, by side-boom tractors. These tractors effectively accomplish their tasks thanks to belts and cradles deployed in carefully coordinated fashion.

Once all of that has been accomplished, the trench is backfilled, topsoil is replaced, and further testing is conducted. Finally, completed pipelines must be tested to ensure they will operate at designated pressures without leaking. Pressure tests are usually conducted in hydrostatic fashion. After the carefully monitored test is completed, the pipe is cleaned and dried and ready for service.

RECENT GROWTH/FUTURE PLANS
Thorn reports that the company’s industry, in terms of volume, has experienced its busiest period in the past several years, due to increased infrastructure. “Between 2005 and 2006, there was a 52 percent growth in natural gas pipeline activities in the United States. In 2006 and 2007, it realized an additional 17-percent growth. However, in 2008, there was an activity increase that was greater than 2005, 2006 and 2007 combined. So that was a phenomenal year. In 2009, we couldn’t go anywhere but down, but it’s still about 80 percent of what we realized in 2008, and 225 percent over 2007.”

As far as 2010, he anticipates about 80 percent of 2009 activity. “Further, forecasters indicate about a 40-percent increase in 2011 over 2010,” he says. “So this is a very healthy time for our industry, and our own workload has tracked accordingly.”

Looking ahead, Thorn says that growth, as within any construction business, will only be limited by activities in markets served. In the meantime, Welded Construction will continue focusing on safety, its primary consideration. The company wants to drive its safety culture to be the industry’s best. It will also increase its productivity through new technology and advanced welding techniques. These combined factors – safety, innovation and investment – define Welded Construction’s overall approach in every project.