Aera decommissions a natural-gas line running through Santa Paula and Ventura
Aera’s Eddie Craig has rarely tackled abandonment projects that require working along busy streets with fast-moving traffic.
But that’s what he faced in late March when he led a team to decommission a long-idle natural-gas line running through Ventura County hills, farmland and parts of downtown Santa Paula and Ventura.
Craig is part of Aera’s Investment Recovery Team, which removes and recycles equipment and other materials when they’re no longer used or required. He’s been with Aera since 1997.
Craig headed a team of Aera specialists who worked for months to cover all the bases to decommission what’s known as the Sespe gas line.
Built in the 1950s, the line runs nearly 11 miles from an inactive natural-gas plant in the hills above Fillmore, west through downtown Santa Paula and parts of Ventura and finally north to Aera’s Ventura property. The gas line had been constructed when much of the area was still rural.
Over the years, the gas plant had been owned by a series of companies, including Aera. But neither the plant nor the underground gas line had been used in more than a decade. In the fall of 2020, the decommissioning process began.
The project’s focus wasn’t removing the physical piping, buried some 10 feet underground and purged of natural gas in 2010.
Instead, the team needed to retire three underground steel vaults, known as valve boxes, which once controlled gas-line operations. The Sespe line’s valve boxes were located at Briggs Road, Telegraph and Wells Roads, and Mills Road. The sites were adjacent to residences and businesses and not far from the high-traffic flow of U.S. Route 101.
The entire gas-line abandonment project took six months. To make sure all boxes were properly checked for logistics, guidelines, permitting and approvals, Craig and a broad Aera team worked with several local, state and federal agencies.
For example, they verified and followed Department of Transportation guidelines. They connected with the City of Ventura to secure permitting approvals and set up traffic control plans. Because parts of the Sespe line ran near railroad tracks, a certified rail watchman was required to be on site to observe any train activity when Aera’s crews were present. Residents and businesses located close to the Aera work areas had to be notified that traffic would be temporarily redirected while crews completed the project.
Aera also contracted with third-party company Traffic Management Inc. for help with onsite traffic control. Sturgeon Services and KVS Transportation were brought in for vacuum trucks and other equipment.
Executing the plan
Over three consecutive days, Craig and the team successfully decommissioned the three valve boxes, which were accessible only through man-hole covers in the street. To alert drivers that crews were at work just a few feet off the road, the Aera team set up bright orange cones and street signs near the underground vaults.
“Working so close to a busy road is foreign to us,” Craig said. “We’re used to working on isolated oil leases, not three feet away from cars driving past at 50 mph. I have a whole new appreciation for Caltrans workers.”
Once underground, Craig and his team permanently sealed off the valve-box controls. Then they filled each vault with a mixture of sand, rock and cement slurry. They also secured each end of the 11-mile gas line, ending the operational life of the Sespe line.
That was good news for Will Spear, manager of Aera’s Ventura operations.
“Removing a pipeline that’s no longer in use just assures the public that there isn’t a gas pipeline running through their property,” Spear said. “It also eliminated the need for us to manage the monthly DOT requirements on a line no one was using.”
For Craig, the project reinforced Aera’s ability to safely plan and execute work regardless of the location.
“We’re used to working on isolated oil leases, not three feet away from cars driving past at 50 mph.”
“This was a complex project because of the cost and difficulty of decommissioning the gas line as well as the time involved in minimizing any impact to the surrounding area, its residents and businesses,” Craig said.
“With a project of this magnitude, there were plenty of opportunities for an injury or accident,” he added. “I’m glad to say there were no injuries, incidents or complaints. It just shows that when Aera takes on a project, our focus on exceptional care for people and the environment drives us to do it in the proper way.”