ELLINWOOD —Is it oil? Is it gas? Is it a new pipeline? How long will they be here? What about the farmers’ land? What are they doing?
While on a drive north on Sts. Peter and Paul road north of Ellinwood, there is no doubt much of the earth has been uprooted. There’s some speculation on the happenings while large equipment and man power unearthed portions of farmers’ fields, making trenches.
Southern Star Natural Gas pipeline, founded in 1904, is headquartered in Owensboro, Ky. and is a natural gas transmission system spanning over 6,000 miles in the Midwest and mid-continent. Market areas include Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri.
“Like last year we received a letter from Southern Star stating when they would be out to work on the pipeline,” Mary Jo Cunningham said. Cunningham is one of the local land owners near Ellinwood that farms crops such as wheat.
There is an easement that gives the right of way to the company. The pipeline was put in place in the 1950s. It is being resurfaced to reduce corrosion.
Due to an early harvest, Cunningham’s wheat was already harvested so the crop was not disturbed. Although in the letter it did state that there would be reimbursement for any damages.
“This is an agricultural area, so we are very careful in how we dig the land with the topsoil coming off first and going on last,” Mike Royer said. “This is the farmers way of living, and it has to be just so.” Royer is a job foreman for Ceco Pipeline Services, who also is familiar with the area.
Topsoil is crucial to all crops, so the topsoil was dug was placed on one side of ditch and the rest of the soil was placed on the other.
Royer’s job is keeping the crews working ahead of each other so the work is done safely and efficiently. One group of men are the diggers, unearthing 50 feet long of the 18 inch pipeline leaving 40 foot plugs (earth) in between to keep the line stable. Another crew works to remove the old surfacing which appeared to be a tar base substance using brass hammers to ensure there is no sparking. Then, the sandblast crew succeeded the resurfacing crew to spray on coating 30 to 50 mls .thick.
“We got here about five weeks ago to do the resurfacing, and we have resurfaced 2.5 miles as planned.” Royer said. With inspections complete, some of the crew has already headed to a new job site in South East Kansas or elsewhere. As for Royer?
“I am headed home ma’am, at least for now. The long periods away from my family are bearable only because we have a great group of men, and they all work well together we are like family,” Royer said.
Like many of the men that have families, the long stretches on these away from home jobs can be taxing but the work must be done and done right. The men take great pride in doing the job by following all regulations while in the field. Relentless heat and historically dry conditions have posed a challenge for not just crops past, present and future, but the 48 man crew worked diligently, sometimes six days a week.
During friendly chatter on a lunch break at John Henrys in Ellinwood, a popular hot spot for many on the crew, Buddy Essary chief inspector out of Oklahoma, while not at liberty to discuss the jobsite details, did say the men worked well together and things appeared to go according to plan. Many locals commented on how very polite and gentlemanly the crew was while in our town.
“When the company came to settle up for any damages to land or crop I felt they were very professional, polite and quite generous,” said Landowner Dennis Habiger said.
Everyone has heard the phrase ‘call before you dig’. This is very important as these lines are mandated three to six feet deep. Call before you dig 811.