Ready? Set. Go! The race is on…at least that’s what it feels like for the lateral inspection crews working to stay ahead of NPL Construction Company’s borehole teams completing a major gas pipeline rehabilitation/replacement project in Illinois. The work being completed is part of “Investing in Illinois,” a Nicor Gas System Improvement Initiative.
“Investing in Illinois” is a multiyear program to replace aging natural gas pipelines, move natural gas meters from inside homes and businesses to outside, upgrade natural gas storage systems and refurbish stations that regulate the natural gas pressure in our system. To date, $1.25 billion has been invested in infrastructure modernization and improvements, and the work is continuing.
“Nicor Gas is committed to delivering clean, safe, reliable and affordable natural gas for our customers, our neighbors and our communities,” said Nicor Gas senior vice president of operations Pat Whiteside. “The improvements we are making to our infrastructure through Investing in Illinois will allow us to continue to deliver natural gas safely and reliably to our customers while spurring the state’s economy by bringing jobs, business and investments to our region.”
Nicor Gas, with its contractor NPL, has been working to modernize the system that delivers natural gas safely and reliably. The initiative began in 2018 and in that year alone, Nicor Gas employees and Illinois-based contractors completed approximately 100 “Investing in Illinois” projects in 66 communities throughout northern Illinois. Sewer inspections are part of Nicor Gas’ safety practices. While NPL has sewer inspection crews of its own, the scope of work called for reinforcements and the contractor they turned to was Pipe View America with its fleet of 15 Aries Industries CCTV/LETS (Lateral Evaluation Television System) vehicles to support its sewer inspection efforts.
Pipe View America is based out of Schaumburg, Illinois, since 2006. The company works with utility owners, utility installers, and municipalities to inspect, locate and diagnose sewer systems. Pipe View uses Aries Industries inspection equipment to maneuver inside sewer mains and laterals. This allows multiple runs and otherwise impossible areas to be viewed without direct access, minimizing disruption to residents and commercial properties.
“What our team provides NPL is critical to maintaining safety. With our Aries lateral inspection cameras, we are able to locate precisely where the laterals are and their depths. We physically mark the area and provide NPL with paper maps and GIS information so their crews know exactly what’s below ground before beginning their work,” said Pipe View America CEO Nick Mathey.
Initially brought on in August 2019 to complete a small subset of inspections, the efficiency and accuracy of the lateral inspections led to NPL partnering with Pipe View America on an ongoing basis. To date, more than 3,000 lateral inspections have been completed. A key element is minimizing disruption to communities for the lateral inspections. In the majority of instances, the Aries LETS 6.0 camera tractor is deployed into the sewer main and launches the lateral camera without needing to encroach on a homeowner’s property and minimizes landscape damage.
The lateral inspection effort has not come without challenges. The project footprint covers cities in the northern part of Illinois, such as Galena and Northbrook, all the way south to Kankakee. So far in 2020, more than 33 Illinois cities have had inspections completed. Lateral inspections are completed “just-in-time” ahead of NPL’s borehole crews. That means Pipe View America may have a crew working in southern Illinois and then be needed for a lateral inspection up north.
“It’s been challenging to move our Aries LETS trucks around to spread the work out evenly and stay ahead of multiple NPL bore crews. The key has been to work in a synchronized fashion with NPL and to communicate daily or even hourly so we can direct our resources to the sites quickly,” according to Pipe View America field supervisor Ken Krofel.
In one instance, Pipe View America was not called to a site for an inspection, but rather for an assist. As often happens when navigating challenging pipes, one of NPL’s own inspection cameras had become stuck in the pipe. Facing the prospect of digging up the road to retrieve the stuck equipment, NPL sought help from its Pipe View counterparts. According to Mathey, the team “McGyvered” a few hooks onto the Aries LETS 6.0 tractor, steered through the pipe debris and was able to dislodge the stuck NPL equipment. A few celebratory high fives and the crews were back at work inspecting pipe and ensuring the safety of the community.
In these challenging times when COVID-19 has disrupted or sidelined projects for many municipalities, Nicor, NPL and Pipe View America have stayed on track with the Investing in Illinois initiative. Maintaining the underground infrastructure is truly an essential business for the safety of our communities and the project work for this initiative will continue well into the next few years.
1 “Nicor Gas Begins System Upgrades in Itasca” Daily Herald, August 20, 2019: https://www.dailyherald.com/submitted/20190820/nicor-gas-begins-system-upgrades-in-itasca
2 Nicor Website: https://www.nicorgas.com/workinyourneighborhood