There are a lot of misconceptions about pipelines. For example, some people think they are installed above the ground (they are in fact buried deep into the ground) or they are concerned about their ageing (pipelines can operate indefinitely if properly maintained).
During the 100+ open houses that our Energy East Pipeline team has organized across the country to present the project, we have heard questions about our plans to convert a 3,000-km section of the Canadian Mainline natural gas network for oil transportation. We are happy to answer these questions because we know it is important for Canadians to get the facts on the project.
First and foremost: This isn’t a new process for us. We’ve done this before.
TransCanada has successfully converted natural gas pipelines in the past. The most recent example is the conversion of a section of the Canadian Mainline for the Keystone Pipeline, which has safely delivered nearly one billion barrels of oil to the U.S. since it began operating in July 2010. Just to put things in perspective, one billion barrels is enough to cover Canada’s nationwide oil consumption for over a year. We transport this oil to where it is needed, and we do it safely.
Why do we convert pipelines? For our proposed Energy East project, we have a unique opportunity to convert an existing underused gas line instead of building a new piece of infrastructure to cover the 3,000 kilometers between Alberta and Ontario, therefore reducing our environmental footprint.
There are certain misunderstandings out there about how we convert and maintain our pipelines safely, and we’d like to take this opportunity to put those to rest. Here is the truth about the integrity of our pipeline system and how we work every day to maintain our safety processes. The Canadian Mainline system has been regularly inspected and maintained since its construction –in the 1970s for the Prairies section, in the 1980s for the Northern Ontario Line and in the 1990s for what is referred to as the North Bay Shortcut at the eastern end of the Canadian Mainline system.
Each year, we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our Integrity Program, which evaluates, cleans and inspects our pipelines throughout their lifecycle. This is why TransCanada has one of the best safety records in the industry.
Before we convert sections of the Canadian Mainline for Energy East, we will perform thorough inline inspections with advanced technologies to assess any metal loss, crack, dent, strain or coating indications. If we find areas of concern, we will repair them. Some repairs may be as simple as recoating the pipeline in specific areas for further protection while others may involve replacing a joint of pipe. We will also replace entire sections of pipeline if needed.
“The first thing we’ll do for Energy East is to assess the integrity of the pipeline and ensure it is sound for oil transportation,” says Tammy Manz, Manager of Energy East Conversion Project.
Our teams will then disconnect the pipeline from the gas system, purge the natural gas from it before adding new facilities to the line, like pump stations (which push the crude oil along the pipeline) and shut-off valves. Shut-off valves are devices strategically placed along the pipeline that can be closed automatically to stop the flow of oil, isolating any pipeline segment where a drop in pressure may have been detected by our leak detection staff at our high-tech Oil Control Centre in Calgary.
Valves are placed at pump stations and near any area deemed sensitive such as water wells, major river crossings, ecologically sensitive areas or populated areas.
Ensuring the safe transport of the energy millions of Canadians rely on every day is our number one priority. We know our performance influences your trust level in us – especially when it comes to safety and operational reliability. This is why we want you to know that we are implementing measures that go beyond regulatory requirements and that, every day, our employees work hard toward our goal of realizing zero safety incidents.