Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Flanagan Pipeline; Engineering Activity

Last Year Wind Turbines...This Year Oil Pipeline: STEMmom.org

Last year we had wind turbines being constructed near us (rural Illinois) and this year we have an oil pipeline going in! So, as you can only imagine.... I view this as a wonderful learning activity! Its lab time! Last year we did a several labs; including Building Wind Turbines, and Power testing Wind Turbines.  And now we have the Flanagan South Pipeline going in a mile from our home. 

Before I share the multi-day engineering challenge I am doing with my middle school/high school students, I wanted to first share a few photos showing what's going on around here. 

We first noticed the survey equipment marking the path of the pipeline. (No photos of this.) It wasn't long before the crops were coming out making way for the oil pipeline construction crews.  


Flanagan South Pipeline Surface Preparation in Illinois: STEMmom.org


Then we noticed the construction to provide access from the road to the right of way sections. Here in Illinois is it cutting through corn and bean fields and an angle. Which may not seem like a strange thing to you, but here in the midwest, our roads all go North/South and East/West! 

Road access to pipeline right of way STEMmom.org

Map of Flanagan South Pipeline through IL, MO, KS, and OK: STEMmom.org

The construction crews worked carefully to separate the top soil from the subsoil. See the difference in color? 

Separation of Top and Sub Soil for Oil Pipeline: STEMmom.org


Gorgeous Top Soil in Illinois: STEMmom.org

From the road the cleared soil surface doesn't look that deep, but standing next to it, made me realize they scrap down about 36"- 48" below soil line. 

Soil preparation for Oil Pipeline: Barn and Beans STEMmom

While the actual pipeline is only 36" in diameter, they need to  clear the right of way with enough room for machines to work, park, and for soil storage. In the photo below, you can see how wide the space is, and follow the line (it curves to the left). 

Clear the right of way + extra for machines: Preparing for oil pipeline construction: STEMmom.org

Back a ways from the road, a wooden bridge (of sorts) was constructed. From what I could tell, it was to distribute the weight of the heavy machinery when it passed over some sort of underground  lines. The wooden pieces of the bridge look small here in this photo. Let me assure you, they are huge! 

Wooden bridge to protect buried lines: Oil Pipeline Construction: STEMmom.org

I had been driving by the construction sites, for over a week before I realized that they had already positioned the pipe under all the roadways near us. After talking with people, they said they saw a huge machine that looked like a drill bit. I can only assume then, that these pipes were installed using a boreing machine.   


I like the photo below because it gives you a pretty good idea of how deep the pipelines are being buried. 


To say there has been a lot of really big equipment around would be an understatement. In these next two photos, you can see the grading of the land as well as some pipes being laid out end to end, which is called to string the pipe. 

Grading the Land & Stringing Pipe: Oil Pipeline construction: STEMmom.org

Grading the Land & Stringing Pipe: Oil Pipeline construction: STEMmom.org

Here is a pipe a bit closer...I'll see about getting more even closer...stay tuned! 

String sections of Oil Pipeline: Flanagan South Pipeline construction: STEMmom.org

To develop an engineering challenge to accompany this construction I used the following sites: 

Enbridge Energy Company:
  • Flanagan South Pipeline Project; This page has a bunch of great materials for learning about how the pipelines are manufactured, installed, maintained, and how land owners are included throughout the process. 
  • Real Answers About Pipelines: Promotional Video that does a wonderful job at explaining the work that precedes construction, the ecological factors that influence the placement of the pipeline and how construction is completed. (Note; this video was available Sept 9, 2013, but couldn't find it at the posting of this article. Humph!)
PBS The American Experience: The Alaska Pipeline: Teacher materials, some slightly interactive components. 

TryEngineering.org. The challenge will will be doing came from this site. It looks great, we'll see how the boys like it. 

STEM Mom's Flanagan South Pipeline Unit Plan


Day
Activity
Teacher Prep
1
Discussion: What challenges are there to the construction of an oil pipeline? (Use my free student worksheet.) 
Have Enbridge video cued up for end of class. Consider printing out some of the pdf files from Enbridge website (or have digital copies available for students)
2
Introduce challenge: Give student teams time to “survey” the land and develop a plan.
Map out a route for the pipeline challenge. (I am using tape and furniture.) Consider including water, endangered species area, or special geological challenges (faults, mountains…etc.)
3, 4
Construction and Testing
Have pipeline construction materials available. (PVC pipes, elbows & connectors; or paper towel tubes and toilet paper tubes)

Ready to try it? Visit Day 1 (coming soon!)

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