Canada’s energy transport sector perfects technology to protect rivers and lakes

By Patrick Smyth

Canada has 8,500 rivers and two million lakes—an enormous amount of water on which all Canadians rely for drinking, washing, recreation and many other uses.

Pipelines, by necessity, are sometimes put in place through waterways and near aquifers. Building this infrastructure near water comes with many challenges that have to be identified, mitigated and monitored. The risks include floods, landslides, settling earth and erosion.

But well before construction even starts, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) member companies have already done their homework. With the help of biologists, environmental specialist and other experts, they seek the least impactful locations to cross water bodies. They choose the safest ways to build, based on analyses of bank stability, wildlife, vegetation and other factors. And they follow exacting industry-leading standards and government regulations.

Ensuring comprehensive water protection is in place requires a collaborative approach with stakeholders from across the energy sector. A prime example of that is the sector’s approach to ensuring compliance with two pieces of federal legislation, the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.

Different environments offer different challenges, and it takes a unique and innovative approach for industry to operate efficiently while maintaining a high level of commitment to safety and environmental protection.

Assessment tool

CEPA, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Gas Association, working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the National Energy Board, hundreds of experts and online public input, recently completed work on a standardized assessment tool.

Called the Fish and Fish Habitat Impact Assessment Tool (FFHIAT), it provides a more efficient way of ensuring pipeline compliance in different and complex environments, streamlining the process and, most importantly, helping to place appropriate protections on Canada’s waterways.

The transmission pipeline industry employs innovative solutions to pipeline construction and monitoring, as well, including web-based tools for monitoring in the field. In 2015, CEPA’s Geohazards Management Users Group started an initiative to test new technologies that will enhance the monitoring of pipelines, thereby protecting our water resources, from hazards like changing water currents or ground movement.

One of these technologies is an acoustic monitoring system that can detect when buried pipelines are exposed. Enbridge conducted a successful trial of this system at a Coquihalla River crossing in British Columbia.

Trenchless installation

Whenever possible, CEPA members employ a trenchless method of pipeline installation called horizontal directional drilling. This method allows the operator to drill under a river and thread the pipe through, with minimal disturbance to the water and surrounding banks.

The pipe used around waterways may be thicker and covered with corrosion-resistant coatings, and, as with the rest of the pipeline, fusion welding at very high heat is used to join sections together.

Pipelines crossing water bodies are also equipped with block valves on both sides of the water crossing that can immediately stop the flow of product.

Once pipelines are constructed, control rooms check the operation of the pipes constantly using around-the-clock, high-tech monitoring systems. Sensors detect minuscule pressure changes—even a small leak can cause a change in pressure.

Safe and responsible

But transmission pipeline operators do more than high-tech remote monitoring once pipelines are in operation. They also have people on the ground, patrolling pipelines on foot and on ATVs.

In the air, they use drones and low-flying aircraft. Special cameras are mounted on the ground, on aircraft and at critical locations. These cameras are so sensitive they can detect, at distances up to two kilometres, hydrocarbon vapours that are invisible to the human eye.

Smart PIGs, or in-line inspection tools, are used to monitor the condition of pipelines from the inside. These devices travel through a pipeline to monitor its health, and diagnose issues such as metal defects. The resulting data can forecast potential challenges so the pipeline operator can address them before any leaks might occur.

Whether from remote locations or along the right-of-way, pipeline operators are taking all necessary steps to ensure safe and environmentally conscious operations of their pipelines—just one of the ways that they protect Canada’s waterways while ensuring pipelines are the safest and most responsible way to transport the energy that Canadians use every day.

Patrick Smyth is vice-president of safety and engineering at the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) where he and his team work with industry partners to enhance industry performance and reputation. A Canadian Registered Safety Professional, Patrick began his career in the trades and progressed into a quality assurance role, obtaining certification in both Canada and the United States in welding inspection and non-destructive examination. He holds diploma of technology from the British Columbia Institute of Technology and BComm and MBA degrees from Royal Roads University.


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