Looking ahead: Western Canada’s first pipeline safety program to launch in 2013

Happy New Year everyone! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season. With 2013 officially upon us, it’s only natural to look ahead to the year to come. And this year, northern Alberta’s Portage College will launch Western Canada’s first pipeline training centre.

Set to fully launch in September 2013 at the college’s Boyle campus, the program offers students practical training and experience with everything from pipeline construction, operation and maintenance to environmental and regulatory policy.

The training centre will feature a 132-acre controlled release training (CRT) site that includes a mock work camp for 42 students, a fully operational control centre and an educational closed-loop pipeline. This pipeline, which will be used for training purposes, will operate similar to pipelines used by oil and gas companies. It’s here at the CRT site that students will gain hands-on training on all aspects of pipeline operations, including how to recognize and respond to an oil spill. 

Conceptual drawings of the pipeline educational loop (Click to enlarge)

Programs like the one at Portage College are developed in collaboration with the pipeline industry and in response to their need for a highly trained, safety conscious and well-prepared workforce. According to Stuart Leitch, director of community and industry training initiatives at Portage College, the pipeline industry plays a leading role in ensuring the program offers students a real-world education.

“Industry is working with us. They are an advisory board but they are also lending what we call intellectual capital. They’re supporting us in terms of instructors, they’re supporting us in terms of materials and there’s an engineering team looking at the preliminary blue prints for our pipeline loop. We’re also working with industry on research about what fluids could flow through the pipeline.”

While at the CRT site, students will experience all that encompasses working in the pipeline industry. This includes getting an idea of what life is like in a work camp, in close quarters with a lot of other people and in a remote location. By working in conditions that mirror the real world, they’ll learn how important their role is to the pipeline industry as a whole – starting in the control room.

“For individuals to have a better command and understanding of their position, what they do and how integral their position is to the industry, they need to tour the control room. They need to know that there is technology supporting their position. If they’re doing maintenance on a pipeline and something gets knocked off or they notice that there’s some sort of instrument that’s not connected, they know to identify that and know how it’s part of the system,” says Leitch

Students will also learn what actions to take in the case of a pipeline spill – an event that Leitch says will occur, as part of a training exercise, without prior warning.

“There will be a mock release of some sort, whether it’s a simulation of corrosion or damaged pipe. In the control room we’ll have people look at the basics: the volume, the pressure loss and things like that. For the entry level and the worker positions it would be identifying the physical attributes of a spill,” he says.

“It’s important that workers at all levels know the process of following company and regulatory policies and feel comfortable informing someone of where a release is. Some of that is visual and on site presence and the ability to notice that something’s different. It’s about awareness. If something happens, we want the ground people to be able to identify that there is something different and to know what to do about it.”

And like the pipeline industry, Leitch says programs like the one at Portage College are guided by a commitment to safety and the environment. 

“Safety and environmental stewardship are critical components of this program. We truly believe that everyone is a steward of the environment. Even at a grass roots level, we want students to learn how critical it is to be environmentally and safety conscious. It reduces reaction time when something happens and it’s everyone’s responsibility.”

The program at Portage College is just one of many great educational programs out there intended to ensure that the people working in the pipeline industry are confident in what they do.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 110,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2011, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 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.