Willbros Successful in Overseeing Massive Underwater Pipeline Project

What does it take to construct a 15.5 mile pipeline from a storage facility in Chambers County Texas, to an export facility in Harris County Texas, crossing waterways three times?

The short answer: Several barges, a few tugboats, and 82,634 feet of 24-inch pipeline. But overseeing the Morgan’s Point Pipeline Project, required more than just materials, it required a pipeline construction contractor with vast expertise in managing several crews all at once, and orchestrating multiple types of heavy equipment on land and water.

In June of 2015, Willbros was hired to oversee this extensive pipeline and marine crossing project so that much-needed ethane gas could be transported to the tip of the Houston Ship Channel, at Morgan’s Point. This is home to the largest ethane gas export facility of its kind in the world. It’s estimated Morgan’s Point exports roughly 1.9 million barrels of ethane per month. Natural ethane gas is used mainly in the petrochemical field to create plastics and chemicals.

Willbros Marine Pipeline

Pictured Hog Island with Houston Ship Channel on the horizon

Over, under, and through

The first item on Willbros agenda was to come up with a comprehensive plan that would seamlessly meld pipeline construction operations on land and water. Then, specialty experts brought in heavy equipment and knowledgeable pipeline crews to scope out the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) routes for the under-water entry and exit sites.

Next, Willbros secured a dock located off of West Bay Road in Baytown, Texas, which served as the loading area for the heavy equipment. Barges and tugs shuttled back and forth on a daily basis loading and unloading heavy equipment and crews on Hog Island, which is situated between Tabbs Bay and the Houston Ship Channel.


Hog Island job site, all equipment, men and matting transported by barge

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) experts began drilling under the waterways as Willbros constructed specialty pipelines. Pipelines are buried beneath riverbeds, and have a minimal impact on the surrounding natural resources.

For the Morgan Point Pipeline Project, three separate water crossing entry and exit points were determined, which were then connected via tie-ins:

A. Hog Island to the east bank of Tabbs Bay – 5,840’ of pipeline

B. Houston Ship Channel (Spilmans Island to Hog Island) – 7,430’ of pipeline

C. Barbour’s Cut – two points on Spilmans Island– 3,720’ of pipeline

Willbros Marine Pipeline 3

Willbros Hog Island Pipeline Project (Source: Michels)

This intricate project began with horizontal directional drilling, first under the Houston Ship Channel, which has a narrow right-of- way, over to Hog Island, and then from Hog Island under Tabbs Bay, with the goal of procuring ethane from a storage facility near Mont Belvieu, Texas. On Hog Island alone, three entry and exit sites were drilled, and two were drilled on Spilmans Island.

At the same time the HDD was taking place, mainline construction crews strung, welded and coated all 24” pipes for the three drill crossings. The pipelines were pre-hydro tested until they were ready to be pulled through the HDD’s, and then excavators positioned the pipes on barges and slowly floated them into position.

Willbros Marine Pipeline 4

Excavators floated on barges to properly position the pipeline

The overall complexity of the pipeline construction project was a good fit for Willbros due to the expertise and breadth of personnel required. At any given time there were three construction sites working simultaneously towards the same goal – to build an airtight underwater pipeline that was within environmental standards.

This project is a great example of the dedication and professionalism Willbros is known for and how they consistently go over and beyond what is expected.

Even though this project was complex and expensive, involved multiple contractors, several pieces of specialized heavy equipment, and thousands of hours of labor, it finished on budget, on time, and with zero safety incidents.

Willbros completes underwater pipeline construction project across the Houston Ship Channel.

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