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Engineering for pipeline is not straightforward, says panel

The Joint Review Panel for the proposed $5.5 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline decided last week that it needed a lot more information before it would issuing a hearing order on the project.


Aerial view of Kitimat on the Douglas Channel, B.C. Pacific coast. Kitimat will be the site of a new terminal for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. www.tourismkitimat.ca
Aerial view of Kitimat on the Douglas Channel, B.C. Pacific coast. Kitimat will be the site of a new terminal for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. www.tourismkitimat.ca

The Joint Review Panel for the proposed $5.5 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline decided last week that it needed a lot more information before it would issuing a hearing order on the project.

Enbridge has worked with a list of engineering firms on the environmental assessments for the pipeline.  They include:  Stantec, WorleyParsons, Triton Environmental Consultants, AMEC Earth and Environmental, Lex Engineering, McElhanney Consulting, Allnorth Consultants, Moffatt and Nichol, Bercha and Associates, Terra Remote Sensing, and Coastal and Ocean Resources.

The project involves the construction of two side-by-side pipelines that travel 1,170 kilometres between the Edmonton area in Alberta to a new marine terminal to be constructed in Kitimat on the Douglas Channel on the northern B.C. coast. The goal is to make Kitimat a gateway for exporting oil  to Asia and the North American West Coast.

One of the pipelines, which is 36 inches in diameter, will transport oil in a westerly direction from Bruderheim, Alberta, while the other, 20 inches in diameter, would carry condensate in an easterly direction. Condensate is used to thin petroleum products to transport them by pipeline.

A new terminal would be built at Kitimat, including two ship berths, and 14 storage tanks.

Releasing its decision on January 19, the Joint Review Panel said it required additional information on the design and risk assessment of the proposed project.

Specifically, the panel said, its questions related “to the difficult access and unique geographic location” of the proposals.

In the Engineering section of the decision, the panel noted that whereas the Enbridge application materials indicated that the project “has no unique engineering challenges,” in fact since the project traverses the Rocky and the Cascade Mountains it has several. The panel listed some of those unique characteristics, including the fact that the route traverses mountainous terrain for more than half of the length. They pointed out that the route crosses areas of high geotechnical risk (avalanches, slides, earthquakes, faults, etc.) and unique environmental and fish habitat, as well as passing through communities dependent on the land for their subsistence and culture.

The panel also noted that the route requires the construction of tunnels through the mountains, and that the rights of way would be difficult to access in all seasons.

The panel also noted the high volumes of oil (20,000 barrels per hour) and condensate (8,000 barrels per hour) that would be carried in the pipeline). They concluded there was a “potential for far-reaching and human consequences in the event of a hydrocarbon release in populated and environmentally sensitive areas.”

The panel urged the pipeline proponents to file information on how they propose to meet the above engineering challenges, before they would hold local hearings along the route. Without the required information it would not be possible to meaningfully analyze the risks in the application, and not possible to assess the overall public interests. 

The Joint Review Panel is an independent body of three people appointed by Canada’s Ministry of the Environment and the National Energy Board. The pipeline application is being reviewed under both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act.

The National Energy Board approved — with conditions — another, even bigger pipeline project in northern Canada on December 16. The Mackenzie Gas Project is a $16-billion proposal to take natural gas nearly 2,000 kilometres from the Beaufort Sea through the Northwest Territories into Alberta. It would carry enough natural gas per day (1.2 billion cubic feet) to supply about two-thirds of the 6 million Canadian households that use natural gas to heat their homes. Imperial Oil, the Mackenzie Valley Aboriginal Pipeline Partnership, Conoco Phillips, Shell and ExxonMobil all filed applications related to the project. If they decide to go ahead and build the pipeline, there are still many permits and authorizations they need to obtain from various public agencies. Some are calling for the federal government to provide financial support.