Canada has 8,500 rivers and two million lakes — an enormous amount of water that all Canadians rely on for drinking, washing, recreation and many other activities.
Pipelines, by necessity, are sometimes built through waterways and near aquifers. And building infrastructure near water comes with a number of challenges that have to be identified, mitigated and monitored, including floods, landslides, settling earth and erosion.
CEPA members are constantly seeking new ways to protect our precious water resources from these forces. To that end, in 2015, CEPA’s Geohazards Management Users Group started an initiative to test new technologies that would enhance the protection of pipelines, and therefore water, from such hazards.
One of these technologies is an acoustic monitoring system that can detect when buried pipelines are exposed. Spectra Energy, now part of Enbridge, conducted a successful trial of this acoustic tool at a Coquihalla River crossing in British Columbia.
But well before construction even starts, CEPA member companies have already done their homework. They seek the least impactful locations to cross water bodies, with the help of biologists, environmentalists and other experts. 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.
Whenever possible, CEPA members employ a trenchless method of pipeline installation called horizontal directional drilling (HDD). 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 fusion welding is used to fuse sections together at very high heat. They are also equipped with block valves on both sides of the water crossing that can immediately stop product flow.
Once in place, control rooms are constantly checking the operation of the pipes using 24/7 monitoring systems.
But transmission pipeline operators do more than high-tech monitoring once pipelines are in operation.
They also have people on the ground, patrolling pipelines on ATVs, with 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 hydrocarbon vapours, that are invisible to the human eye, from two kilometres away.
Inside the pipelines, fibre-optic technology relays information, such as temperature changes, at 300,000 kilometres per second back to the control room. Other sensors can detect minuscule pressure changes; even a small leak can cause a change in pressure.
Smart PIGs, or in-line inspection tools, are used to monitor the condition of pipelines from the inside. These tools travel through a pipeline to monitor its health, diagnose issues such as metal defects. The resulting data can forecast potential challenges and highlight any issues to the pipeline operator.
Whether from remote locations or from the right of way, transmission pipeline operators are always monitoring their pipelines – it is 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.
Read next: How are pipelines installed across rivers?