5 facts about pipelines and natural disasters

As forest fires rage in northern Alberta and B.C., many people are wondering how much of a danger is posed by oil and gas operations, including pipelines, in the midst of such natural disasters.

To find out, we spoke with Jamie Kereliuk, director of emergency management at Kinder Morgan Canada.

According to Jamie, preparation for events like fires or floods starts right from the pre-planning stages for any pipeline. “All pipeline operators are required by law to complete comprehensive hazard identification and risk assessment processes for every pipeline they build and operate. There are multiple hazards that might affect a pipeline on any given day and the important thing is to have different plans in place to deal with each of these hazards.”

Jamie shared these five interesting facts about pipeline operations and natural disasters:

#1 Natural hazards are built into the pipeline planning process

All pipeline companies must have a comprehensive and up-to-date emergency management plan for each pipeline they operate. In any given area, potential hazards might include such natural events as fire, flood, tornadoes or earthquakes – and emergency management plans must include measures to protect against such natural disasters.

Pipelines are also designed and built to very detailed specifications and standards, taking into account the types of natural events they may be subject to. In parts of B.C., for instance, earthquakes could be a consideration; while in Alberta, the risk of forest fires would definitely be built into the planning process.

#2 Underground pipelines are not vulnerable to the same risks as above ground facilities

The forest fires in northern Alberta present a fairly low risk to underground transmission pipelines, which are far enough beneath the surface to be protected from damage. Above ground facilities, such as pump and compressor stations, are at a greater risk.

Pipelines, on the other hand, would be at greater risk from events such as earthquakes or landslides.

#3 Proactive mitigation measures are already helping protect above ground facilities in Alberta

Whatever the risk, there are comprehensive plans in place to help minimize the danger, before those events even happen. In the case of the forest fires currently decimating parts of northern Alberta, above ground facilities such as pump and compressor stations are at risk because they have buildings and instrumentation above the ground.

Routine protective measures include building such stations with a large gravel surround, which is more resistant to ignition, and keeping the facilities maintained and free from wood debris.

Above ground pipeline facility

This above ground facility is surrounded by gravel, which will help to protect it from fire.

#4 Emergency mitigation measures add another level of protection

In the event of an emergency, further mitigation measures are put into place as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the case of fires, buildings could be protected using sprinklers, fire retardant foam and gels, and larger fire breaks can be cleared around structures.

#5 Pipeline companies are always willing to shut down their pipelines when safety is at risk

A facility or pipeline that is free from oil and gas products presents very little risk to people or the environment, and pipeline companies are able to completely shut down the flow of oil or natural gas whenever safety dictates.

“Operators never really hesitate to shut down their facilities for a period of time,” said Jamie, “and they can start up again when it’s safe to do so.”

If you’ve got further questions about pipelines and the Fort McMurray wildfire, check out these FAQs, and if you’d like to donate to help those who have been affected, please visit this dedicated Alberta wildfires donation page.

To learn more about how pipeline companies prepare for emergencies, check out our emergency response fact sheet (PDF). And don’t miss this post on how technology is helping pipeline companies prepare for Mother Nature’s unpredictability.

 

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 119,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2015, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.