BY RICHARD GILBERT - ATCO Pipelines is moving forward with a half a billion dollar natural gas pipeline project in Calgary and Edmonton, after receiving approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC).
“The safety of our communities is our priority,” said Brian Hahn, president, ATCO Pipelines in a press release.
“By building new, modern pipelines in the TUCs (Transportation Utility Corridors), we can continue to provide safe, reliable service to customers, while meeting the growing demand for natural gas in Alberta’s two largest cities.”
The Urban Pipeline Replacement (UPR) project involves the reconfiguration of high-pressure natural gas pipelines located in densely populated areas.
ATCO Pipelines will replace and relocate the existing pipeline transmission systems by constructing new high-pressure systems in the Alberta government’s designated TUCs.
The TUCs are designed to accommodate utility infrastructure and ring roads, as well as protect pipelines from development activities.
The ATCO Gas component of the UPR project will require the construction of about 92.9 kilometres of feeder mains and 19 gate stations.
The feeder mains would be tied into the existing distribution systems.
In addition, existing stations currently connected to vintage high-pressure pipelines would be decommissioned and removed, and the station sites would be reclaimed.
The company has three serious concerns about the existing network of high-pressure pipelines that were originally built on the outskirts of these cities over the past 50 to 60 years.
ATCO’s 2012 annual report said an incident involving these lines has the potential for tragic consequences, due to the proximity of densely populated areas and the very high pressures at which they operate.
Pipelines are still hit by third parties during excavation activities, despite efforts to educate the public.
As a result, the current location of these lines leaves them vulnerable to damage and increases the risk that an incident will occur.
These pipelines are also more susceptible to failure as they near the end of their expected operating life as high-pressure pipelines.
As Calgary and Edmonton continue to grow in size and population, the location and capacity of the existing high pressure network will not be able to meet the associated growth in demand for natural gas.
In response, ATCO is proposing to build a network of pipelines, which will benefit from modern pipeline coatings, welding practices and inline inspection technologies.
In-line inspection involves running an instrumented device, referred to as a smart pig, through a pipeline to locate and characterize anomalies such as corrosion-caused metal loss, material defects, dents, and other geometric irregularities that could indicate compromised pipeline integrity.
The information gathered from the smart pig run through the pipeline provides reasonably accurate information on the size of the anomalies to allow the operator to prioritize the examination of the anomalies.
The UPR proposal is comprised of 12 individual pipeline projects, four in Edmonton and eight in Calgary.
Construction started in 2011 at an estimated cost of $400 million to $500 million, over a five-year period.
The total capital expenditures in both cities over the 20-year analysis for the UPR proposal were estimated at about $900 million.
The AUC approved three of the UPR projects with construction completed for the first segment in 2011 in northwest Edmonton.
The AUC had also approved the southeast and east Calgary segments.
But, the project was suspended in September 2012 and ATCO was required to file an application for the entire project, which was submitted in March 2013.
The AUC also instructed ATCO to undertake a public consultation process to engage with the residents of Calgary and Edmonton about the project. The AUC public hearings took place in September 2013.
ATCO Pipelines’ application presented three alternatives to the UPR proposal.
The integrity alternative involves extensive testing and maintenance of the existing Edmonton and Calgary systems in order to facilitate the continued use of these existing pipelines.
The replacement-in-place alternative consists of installing new pipelines in place of the existing pipelines in the existing rights-of-way in Edmonton and Calgary.
The distribution alternative involves removing all urban high-pressure facilities from service and installing new distribution pressure pipelines throughout Edmonton and Calgary, and where practicable, converting some existing high-pressure pipelines to distribution service.
The AUC decided the UPR project is superior to alternatives considered with regard to risk management, system integrity, reliability of supply, minimal public disruption, technical feasibility and proposed locations.
Construction is expected to begin before the end of 2014, with the entire project completed by 2019.