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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Pipeline Infrastructure

Canada's pipeline system reaches over 700,000 kilometres, and has four main categories. The first category is local or provincial companies or co-operative run natural gas distribution lines to deliver the gas to homes, businesses, and small industry. Flow lines or gathering lines are the way that natural gas and oil are moved from wellheads to oil batteries and production facilities. Feeder lines transport crude oil and other liquids from one processing facility to the transmission lines. Transmission pipelines are used for transportation of crude oil and natural gas in a province, the nation, or internationally.

PipelineIn every case, the building of these pipelines must be carried out carefully and involves years of planning. After consultation, negotiations with land holders and environmental assessments have been conducted; approval is given by the federal and provincial governments. The construction is carried out in four stages: clear the land, dig the trench, deliver the pipe, and then weld the pipes together. The straightforward stages of construction must continuously address the concerns for the integrity of the pipeline. Offshore pipeline are buried in trenches on the bottom of the ocean.

In oil pipelines, powerful electric motors drive the centrifuge pumps on the lines, sending the oil through the pipes at four to eight kilometres an hour. Trunk lines carry different types of crude oil, natural gas and refined products where all the products are sent in batches. They do not mix due to hydraulics and are sent to separate storage facilities. The world's largest crude oil pipeline, owned by Enbridge Pipelines Inc., transports oil from Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories, through Alberta, and then to Ontario and the United States.

Natural gas pipelines ship the gas by using turbines to spin the centrifuge pumps that compress the gas. The natural gas travels faster than oil, moving up to forty kilometres per hour. The largest carrier is TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. Alberta Gas transmission division. TransCanada also owns the largest natural gas interprovincial pipeline in Canada, stretching from Alberta to Quebec. In British Columbia, Duke Energy Gas Transmission operates their lines, and TransGas Limited operates the Saskatchewan lines.

PipelinesAll design and construction decisions are guided by Canadian Standards Association, International and all levels of government regulators. They are concerned that the pipe is buried deeply enough, that it is the correct thickness, that is the correct material, and other issues. The importance of proper welding cannot be overstressed. Non-destructive examinations are carried out to make sure the pipe joints are welded to specifications. The examinations use ultrasonic and radiography to see if there are any imperfections in the weld.

Pipeline companies also use systems to avoid leaks and spills, which would contaminate the soil or fresh water deposits nearby. Computer systems on pipelines can detect pressure drops. Smart Pigs are devices that conduct internal inspections of the pipeline detecting erosions or leaks. Pipeline faults called “stress corrosion cracks” cause pipeline failures are a problem that is being addressed by agencies including the National Energy Board. Another danger is damaged caused by people digging and hitting the line. The “Call Before You Dig" program is important in reducing these accidents.

Ribbons of Oil

Pipeline construction in Canada receives its legal mandate from the Pipe Line Act. In this excerpt from the JuneWarren publication, The Great Canadian Oil Patch: The Petroleum Era from Birth to Peak, author Earle Gray retraces the debate that led to the passing of the Pipe Line Act by Parliament in 29 April, 1949, and reveals the challenges and controversy involved with the construction of the Interprovincial Pipeline (IPL). Read more…


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