By Cassie McClure
Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 4/11/21
It might be hard to understand why a Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) Corrosion Technician has what looks like ski poles, a rolled wire backpack, and is staring down at a small screen hanging on his chest – especially if he’s walking through the mud produced by another truck’s trailer spraying water in front of him. It may look strange, but this is how LCU uses state-of-the-art equipment to make sure that large gas lines that feed into Las Cruces are safe and not corroding.
Corrosion is caused by a chemical reaction between the metal and the type of soil surrounding its environment. It can be abated by using different metals, applying a protective coating to the pipes, or attaching a metal that takes the corrosion from the pipe, appropriately named a “Sacrificial Anode.”
“You can use preventive measures, but you can never get rid of corrosion,” said Pete Duran, LCU Gas technical service supervisor and interim Gas system operations supervisor. His crew is now performing a close interval survey for the first time on all the transmission pipes leading into the city, checking on the status of gas pipes throughout the city – and miles out into the desert, even running under the currently dry bed of the Rio Grande River.
There are two transmission pipelines, an 8-inch and 12-inch, that supply the city gas from a pipeline company called Kinder Morgan who transports gas from coast to coast. LCU taps into that through the high-pressure pipes – sending 750 pounds per square inch (PSI) – to regulator stations throughout the city, which drop the pressure down bit by bit. Gas distribution lines filter through the city and by the time it ends up at a residence the pressure could be down to just ounces.
LCU conducted the survey for the first time two years ago through a contractor and passed with no corrosion or any issues found. LCU then purchased the equipment – data logger and matching ski poles that send the info to the data logger – for crews to perform a yearly survey of the lines internally. The pipes are about 4 to 5 feet underground, and all the lines - roughly 22 miles altogether - need to be slowly inspected and measured – on foot and in the mud. “Wetting the dirt helps get a better reading,” Duran said.
Copper wire unspools behind LCU Corrosion Technician Stephan Klingelmeier as he takes pipe-to-soil readings of the pipeline. That wire is then attached to two test stations along the lines to test for potential. If the potential – essentially an electrical reading – is different than the gas industry standards, then there may be coating imperfections or damage to the pipe which then must be excavated and inspected. So far, there’s been no digging, just a lot of walking.
LCU Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: LCU Corrosion Technician Stephan Klingelmeier walks the gas line that runs under the Rio Grande River’s dry bed. He’s checking the large transmission lines that help distribute natural gas throughout Las Cruces.