The Burnsville Steam Compression Station

| November/December 1994

Steam compression engine

P. O. Box 3128 Deer Park, Maryland 21550-1028

High pressure side' of the Nordberg duplex steam compression engine used in compression station at Burnsville, W. Va. Note steam line coming to the high pressure cylinder from separate boiler house. Once steam powered this cylinder, it was exhausted for reuse in the 'low pressure side' and the steam cylinder of a larger bore across from the high pressure side of the engine. The two sides of the Nordberg engines were separated by its single flywheel.

View of the 'low pressure side' of the same engine, with steam cylinder towards the right. The extended piston rod of the steam cylinder which operated the gas compressing cylinder can be seen in this view.

Burnsville, West Virginia, is located in Braxton County, and is near what is regarded as the geographical center of the Mountain State. It is a small town, situated in a limited flat area, surrounded by nearby hills and streams, with only the constant highway traffic on Interstate 79 to disturb its peaceful setting. With no exotic tourist attractions, most travelers simply speed through the town; they are there only because of the Interstate's routing. But, on the northwest edge of the town, the Equitable Gas Company operated the state's very last steam compression station. Some of the company's management personnel also claimed this steam compression station was the last one on our nation's east coast to move natural gas through the pipelines. For the station's employees, and a few others aware of it, Burnsville, West Virginia, was an exotic place. Lady Luck had kindly permitted me to be at this steam compression station in 1982 and 1983, a time in my life I've greatly come to relish.

For the reader lacking the knowledge, a compression station is also known as a compressor station, and called by a few people a pumping station. Natural gas will normally flow out of a gas well via naturally occurring pressure, the higher pressure within the well pushing the gas to a lower pressure area. Natural gas is transported via pipeline(s), but the well pressure is not sufficient enough to flow the gas for extended distances through a pipeline. Like air, natural gas is compressible. To deliver natural gas from well-heads to the users of it, often several hundred miles away, the gas is compressed at intervals along its transport, which in creases its flow rate. This is the purpose of compression or compressor stations to boost the flow of the gas by increasing the occurring pressure of it at various intervals. This process can be thought of like moving water through a pipeline for an extended distance, as well as uphill and downhill, with the use of water pumps, but gas is compressed, not pumped.

Originally, most gas compression stations were operated, or powered, by stationary steam engines of various sizes, types, and manufacturer. In time, steam engines were replaced by natural gas fueled reciprocating engines, similar to gasoline or diesel engines in their appearance but with a portion of the engine's cylinders being solely for gas compression purposes. Still later came gas turbine powered compressors, and even, at some small outdoor installations, electric motor driven compressors.