As the largest refined products pipeline in America, Colonial Pipeline, Alpharetta, Ga., transports more than 100 million gallons of fuel 5,500 miles daily to meet consumers’ energy needs from Houston to New York Harbor. Since breaking ground in 1962 and completing the first 1,000-mile section of the pipeline the following year, Colonial Pipeline has gone from moving 240,000 barrels per day 60 years ago to more than 2.5 million barrels per day today.
“Our father, Hermon Levi Milton, started Buffalo Electric in 1966,” said Pat Milton, president of Buffalo Electric Inc., Baker, La. His father named it after the “Baker Buffaloes,” the beloved mascot of their city’s high school. The company has always been a family affair, and Pat and his brother Mark Milton are co-owners.
With nearly 90 employees—all of whom have completed JATC training within the IBEW’s Birmingham, Ala.-based Fifth District— “we do a lot of work in paper mills, chemical and nuclear plants and other industrial settings and work everywhere where Colonial Pipeline runs, including Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey and New York,” Mark Milton said.
A productive partnership
“Buffalo Electric has been doing work for Colonial Pipeline for over 30 years,” Pat Milton said, recalling their very first job together in 1988. “Hurricane Andrew had just rolled through our area, and an electrical supply house near us called us to ask if we could fix a downed pole near them, which we did. They were a supplier to Colonial Pipeline and helped make an introduction for us, which led to our opportunity to work for Colonial Pipeline.”
Since then, Buffalo Electric has completed a broad range of jobs for Colonial Pipeline, including addressing shutdowns, tying generators together to get pumping stations back online when they were damaged, making medium-voltage upgrades to electrical gear, installing overhead power lines, troubleshooting and more.
“Given the mission-critical nature of Colonial Pipeline’s activities—the fuel they supply keeps everything from households to the broad range of businesses running—we do a lot of maintenance work and upgrades in their pumping stations to ensure that they’re always operational and efficient,” Mark Milton said.
“For a recent project in Louisiana where Colonial Pipeline added fuel storage tanks to their system as well as booster pumps and a large manifold in order to pump fuel to the next location, we performed overhead utility work and put in an electrical substation, which required our installation of a lot of control wiring, fiber optic cabling and power to valves,” said Tim Alexander, Buffalo Electric project manager. “It was a year-long project for us that involved 60–70 of our people at its height.”
“Colonial Pipeline is constantly upgrading their pipeline with new technology and control systems to ensure the most reliable, durable and energy-efficient operations possible, and we’re proud to be among the top electrical contractors supporting them in these efforts,” Pat Milton said.
On yet another project for Colonial Electric, which involved connecting service between the company’s Baton Rouge facility and the docks of the Mississippi River nearly 25 years ago, the Buffalo Electric team successfully installed five miles of fiber optic cable all in one continuous piece with no splicing.
“Every time you have a splice, the signal gets weaker,” Mark Milton said. “To do this installation, we used a technology to blow fiber manufactured by transmission and distribution equipment company Sherman+Reilly Inc. [Chattanooga, Tenn.] that we were first introduced to at a NECA show in Knoxville, Tenn. The Sherman+Reilly team then came to our facility to train us on their technology, and our subsequent knowledge of this product and technique helped us land the job with Colonial Pipeline when we bid on it.”
On a 2020 project for Colonial Pipeline involving a control system upgrade, Buffalo Electric helped connect one of the company’s facilities to another by installing 5,000 feet of fiber optic cable through Colonial Pipeline property—part of which was along Route 588 in Collins, Miss.
“We had to come out of one Colonial Pipeline property, travel down State Highway 588 for 1,600 feet, and then continue onto another Colonial Pipeline property to connect their facilities,” Alexander said. “Though it’s a rural highway with limited vehicle traffic, the challenges involved avoiding all of the other utilities and pipelines on Highway 588 that a number of other agencies run underground, including telephone lines, underground power, water lines, etc.”
Alexander explained that before Buffalo Electric could do any digging, all other companies/utilities with underground lines had to come out and locate them so a sufficient distance could be maintained. This process was supported by One Call/811, which notifies underground utility operators or facilities of an intent to dig and requests they mark out their cables, pipelines or other systems so they can be avoided.
“It was also a hilly area with some significant elevation changes, so we worked hard to maintain a specified depth and an appropriate clearance from other obstructions in the ground,” Alexander said.
Because of the delicate nature and high stakes of that project, organization and planning were paramount.
“At the very beginning, we held a kickoff preconstruction meeting with all parties involved in the project to discuss potential hazards and everyone’s responsibilities,” Alexander said. “To install the conduit underground, we hired local subcontractor Castle Construction, which does a lot of directional drilling and underground boring for us, and we communicated with the customer and subcontractor continuously throughout the project to keep everyone informed. We had a master plan and project schedule that detailed where we’d be boring as well as the other utilities affected, and also had all safety barriers up and prepared Job Safety Analysis (JSA) documents regularly.”
The job was completed smoothly and successfully within two weeks and Colonial Pipeline was delighted with the results.
“During this project, Buffalo Electric was exceptional with their planning and scheduling,” said Adam Wolfe, Colonial Pipeline’s director of field project management. “Buffalo used a subcontractor to perform the directional drilling, and they managed their subcontractors according to the utmost safety and performance standards. This job was another Colonial Pipeline success story, and Buffalo Electric did an outstanding job with all aspects of the project, from scheduling to budgeting and subcontractors.”
As is the case for many ECs, Buffalo Electric had to navigate many challenges.
“During the pandemic, for instance, we had to wear masks anytime we were within six feet of each other or in a customer’s building, and some companies we worked for wouldn’t allow more than a certain number of our people to be on the job,” Mark Milton said. “Masks were especially challenging to wear in the Louisiana heat, and we often had to take breaks to cool down and hydrate during the pandemic, which cut into productivity.”
“While only a few of our employees actually contracted COVID during that time, others missed work because they’d been exposed to COVID at work or at home and then had to quarantine for 10 days, which made it very difficult to manage our production,” Pat Milton said.
Today, some of Buffalo Electric’s biggest challenges involve getting the materials needed to do their jobs.
“We install generators and deliveries on certain generators, general switchgear, panels and transformers are currently 52–56 weeks out,” Mark said. “At the same time, shipping delays on small things that used to be readily available, like semiconductors and insulators, can now hold up entire projects.”
“We fight weather every day,” Alexander said. “This summer, for instance, it rained in our area nearly every day, and every time there’s a lightning strike, you have to stop the job for 30–45 minutes before you can resume, making it a challenge to complete work.”
Despite these difficulties, Buffalo Electric takes safety precautions seriously.
“On every job, we conduct a JSA in which we review every hazard our crew members will face that day and answer questions,” Pat Milton said. “If at any point any of our employees witnesses a near-miss or sees someone doing something improperly, they have the right to stop the job on the spot and have a safety talk with everyone. Our team is very proactive, and like Colonial Pipeline, we want no accidents/incidents on our jobs.”
“Among the safety measures we’re extremely vigilant about is lockout/tying out,” Mark Milton said. “No matter where it is, we always turn the power off, lock it out with a physical lock and install ground chains so that if power were to come on in some way, it wouldn’t shock anyone.”
It’s all of these measures and more that have led to Buffalo Electric’s multiple awards from Colonial Pipeline, a company that also prioritizes safety and recognizes partners who excel in that arena.
“Among others, Colonial Pipeline presented us with their Safety Engagement Commitment Award in 2021 and their Contractor Safety Circle of Excellence Award in 2020 and 2021,” Alexander said.
“Colonial Pipeline’s safety and performance standards are extremely high, and working for Colonial Pipeline has made Buffalo Electric an even better, safer and more productive company,” Mark Milton said.
“The team from Colonial Pipeline goes out of their way to communicate with their contractors and coordinate jobs before they start and are more committed to safety than any other company we work with,” Pat Milton said. “Their motto is ‘zero is possible’ and because they believe it and instill it in their contractors, we believe it and instill it in all of our employees.”
Alexander also appreciates the bonds Colonial Pipeline forges with trusted partners.
“They really value their contractors and work to develop and build solid relationships with them,” he said.
As the Milton brothers and their employees look forward to continuing Buffalo Electric’s strong partnership with Colonial Pipeline, “we have a couple of our guys on one of their properties most days of the year,” Mark Milton said. They feel confident that their father would be proud of their 56-year-old company’s achievements.
“Our dad loved and lived for NECA and the apprenticeship program. He passed away in 2020 at age 94, but we know that he’s smiling right now because we’re carrying on the legacy as he would have wanted,” the brothers said. “We only wish that he could be here to be a part of it. Our father and uncle started this company, and it remains a true family business that we hope to see continue for another 50-plus years.”