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Historic DuPont pipeline to be dismantled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A piece of Belle DuPont plant's history will be dismantled in the coming weeks.

In the late 1920s, engineers at the plant discovered a way to save energy while producing ammonia, said Jim O'Connor, plant manager. They figured they could use gravity to feed water into the system through a series of pipes running down a hill outside the plant.

So they set workers to building a pipeline system consisting of two sections of four pipes, each a little over 1,000 feet long, up the 700-foot-tall hillside. The pipeline opened in 1930, O'Connor said. 

The water was sent down the hillside, where distance and gravity combined to raise the water pressure from about 100 pounds per square inch to about 450 pounds per square inch.

The water then was used in the ammonia manufacturing process to de-gas the material. Momentum from the water's journey down the hill then forced it back up the incline, where it was de-gassed, O'Connor said.

The water picked up dissolved gases produced from the manufacturing process, he said. The water was recycled from the bottom of the hill to its top, with more being siphoned from the Kanawha River when the liquid began to evaporate.

The process of using the hill to build momentum in order to increase the pounds per square inch was a "quite the engineering accomplishment," even by today's standards, because it resulted in a 70 percent energy savings in the ammonia manufacturing process, O'Connor said.

"I've heard this process has been used in textbooks through the years as an example of how to take advantage of natural land features to help with a process," he said.

The system, which was the main function of the DuPont plant in the Upper Kanawha Valley during that era, was shut down in the 1950s, O'Connor said.

And although the company still uses ammonia, it is shipped in from facilities on the Gulf Coast, he said.

Since the pipeline system has not been needed for several decades, officials with the company have opted to dismantle it.

Employees with the company will dismantle the system, which stretches over 1,000 feet from plant to hilltop, and also disassemble the rail line that ran from the plant to the top of the hill, O'Connor said.

The rail line was used to haul men and material from the plant to the top of the hill where the water was de-gassed, he said.

The metal from the pipeline and rail line will be recycled into other uses, O'Connor said. He emphasized that the pipeline would not have held any ammonia residue because it has been inactive since the 1950s.

"Everything about that pipe is perfectly safe," he said.

The company will take public safety into consideration, not because of any danger of ammonia residue, but because they will be dismantling large steel pipe from the hillside above U.S. 60 in Belle.

One lane of U.S. 60 closest to the mountain will be shut down for three weeks starting April 15, O'Connor said. This is so employees can construct a safety barrier between the hill and the road, he said.

"The safety fence will keep any debris or rocks that could come down the hill from going into the road," O'Connor said.

The state Division of Highways has approved the plan. The lane will be reopened after the safety fence is installed.

It should take employees until the end of August to dismantle the pipeline system and rail line, O'Connor said.

A winch will be installed at the top of the hill, and the pieces of dismantled pipe will be sent down the inside of a large steel pipe 30 inches in diameter. This process means another rail line will not have to be built on the side of the hill, O'Connor said.

The sections of 30-inch pipe being removed will be cut into pieces so it can fit down the last 30-inch diameter pipe, he said.

"The pieces of pipe will basically be moved down the hill on what's basically a sled inside the pipe," O'Connor said.

The lane of U.S. 60 closest to the hill will again be closed when the project is completed so the safety fence can be removed, he said. The lane should be closed the second time for three weeks in September.

Officials with the company did not have to worry about closing roads when the pipeline, which can still be seen on the hillside next to the plant, when it was constructed in the late 1920s. 

"Route 60 wasn't there when the pipe line was built," O'Connor said. "It was just a dirt road then."

O'Connor has been unable to determine how much it cost to build the pipeline and railroad up the hill when the project was originally undertaken.

However, one thing for sure is that the price tag was much less than the $1.2 million it will take to dismantle it, he said.

The entire pipeline system is above ground. Workers will remove vegetation for about 5 feet to one side of the pipeline system.

"We want to remove as little vegetation as possible to cut back on erosion and for aesthetics," O'Connor said.         

Contact writer Paul Fallon at or 304-348-4817. Follow him at



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