Gas pipeline project wraps up with welding, 'tie-in'


Editor's note: This is the last weekly update concerning the natural gas pipeline rerouting project through the Rio Grande Gorge. For background on the eight-month project, see our earlier reporting about the planning process, contractors and impacts to gorge residents.

Contracted crews who are working to install a new natural gas pipeline through the Río Grande Gorge are concluding their work this week.

"We are preparing for the final step, the tie-in," said the New Mexico Gas Company spokesperson Tim Korte in a Wednesday (March 14) email.

"Trucks carrying liquified natural gas will be plumbed to a block valve near the Taos Country Club. This evening, the [liquid gas] will be gasified and pumped into the Taos mainline to provide uninterrupted service in Taos, Questa and Red River. Customers in Rinconada, Pilar and the Stakeout Heights area will be connected today to compressed natural gas tanks," Korte said.

"The pipeline was vented [Wednesday] afternoon to clear the natural gas, so welding can be performed north of Rinconada [Thursday] morning," Korte said.

New Mexico Gas Company received some calls about noise and smell.

"The same noise and smell will occur again [Thursday], probably around mid-morning but it could be later. This is dependent on how quickly the welds can be made and tested. This will be done a second time to restore and pressurize the gas in the pipeline," Korte said.

"Early on Thursday [March 15], the natural gas flow will be stopped at Rinconada to allow crews to weld the new pipeline to the existing Taos mainline. After the welds are completed and inspected, the regular natural gas flow will be resumed and the project will be complete," Korte said.

The gas company is the utility behind the roughly $14 million project to install a six-mile section of pipeline that will replace the existing pipeline that was subject to active geology, and thus rupture, in the gorge.

Zachary Stone, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that granted the environmental approval for the pipeline replacement, told The Taos News in a March 6 email that the agency is "pleased with the New Mexico Gas Company's Taos mainline relocation project. We did not have any major complaints regarding this project." Stone noted the gas company's contractors did not have any violations of environmental rules or laws and that the contractors would not be fined for the delay, which pushed the end-date of the project from November to this week.

"Over the coming months, motorists on [State Road] 68 may see minor landscaping and cleanup work but no traffic restrictions will be imposed. Next summer, our crews will remove the old pipeline in areas where it sits above ground," Korte said.