Five phases of the pipeline life cycle

Canada’s energy transmission pipelines have safely delivered the energy Canadians need for close to 70 years. Our pipeline system is considered one of the safest in the world. And that’s largely due to the high standards applied throughout the pipeline life cycle.

But, what does the term ‘life cycle’ mean in the context of pipelines? If you’re curious, here’s a quick overview of the five phases of a pipeline life cycle.

5 phases of a pipeline life cycle

1. Planning… and design


Planning starts years before construction begins. As soon as the pipeline proponent determines the project is economically viable with customers or potential customers, that need to transport product. That initial scoping phase estimates volumes of product and identifies the start and end points, to help determine the diameter of the pipeline and number of above-ground facilities required.

Then, preliminary routing and design activities can begin. These include:

  • conversations and consultations with landowners, local communities and Indigenous groups to gather input for route selection
  • selecting a route and determining the physical structure for the pipeline
  • choosing locations of any associated facilities, such as compressor stations
  • assessing potential environmental impacts, historical resources, current and traditional land use
  • front-end engineering design, such as structural and strength analyses, choice of materials and risk assessments.


2. Application and approval


Regulatory applications contain all the appropriate information to assure the regulator that the project is necessary, safe for people and the environment, and that appropriate consultations, assessments and sound engineering were done. Submissions include:

  • the proposed route
  • details of consultations with landowners, communities and Indigenous groups, and
  • descriptions of the terrain and environment that the pipeline will traverse.

Pipeline proponents will also outline steps to mitigate environmental impacts, e.g., noise and light pollution, construction timing and mitigation for restricted activity periods, steps to manage invasive species, protection of Indigenous traditional use of lands and resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and reclamation procedures.


3. Construction (including pre-construction planning)


During the pre-construction and construction phases, it is particularly important for the proponent to apply preventative measures to avoid or mitigate environmental impacts. Measures previously outlined on paper must now come to life to ensure the pipeline is built to meet all safety standards and regulatory requirements.

On the technical side, project proponents must ensure the pipeline is engineered, constructed and operated in accordance with Canadian Standard CSA-Z662.


4. Commissioning and operation


Commissioning is the term used to describe the process of bringing the newly constructed pipeline ‘online’, making it ready to receive product. It takes place after the new pipeline is tested with water to a pressure at least 25 per cent higher than the maximum operating pressure of the pipeline. This step confirms there are no leaks.

In the operations phase, engineering is primarily focused on inspection to ensure the pipeline’s integrity. Environmental considerations include:

  • reducing noise and light pollution during routine activities
  • erosion and sediment control
  • rare species conservation
  • air emissions management
  • mitigating and responding to contaminants in soil and water

Emergency management is also of particular importance during the operation stage.


5. Retirement (or decommissioning)


The final stage is decommissioning or retirement. In consultation with landowners, the pipeline company at this stage must adequately assess the potential land, environmental and safety impacts in its decision on whether to remove the pipeline completely, remove the pipeline partially, leave the pipeline in place, or a combination of these methods.

The pipeline life cycle is complicated and demands industry-leading expertise and resources. This is critical to help ensure that the energy Canadians rely on for their quality of life continues to be transported safely and responsibly for decades to come.