Making connections: Pipeline construction in the city

As pipeline construction crews worked on a critical project in Northwest Calgary, a three-year-old boy, Antonio, keenly watched every day. He played with his toy trucks mimicking the crew and pretended to help the crews build the pipeline.

The little protégé was thrilled when the crew gave him a few company hats. As the days went on, the bond developed. At a safe distance from the pipeline construction site, the crew gave Antonio his own dirt pile to help build the pipeline. A few of the workers even got together and bought the little boy a ride-on motor toy. They joked that they were recruiting employees early and Antonio became an honourary member of the crew.

The kindness shown by the workers was deeply appreciated by the family and the community. Antonio’s experience with this project gave him social and cognitive enrichment that he will never forget. Although this construction project is nearing an end, Antonio continues to build pipelines in his sandbox and continues to ask his mom about visiting and learning from more ATCO projects.

This is a true story. It happened during recent construction of ATCO’s Northwest Calgary Connector (NWCC)—the new pipeline that will safely deliver natural gas to thousands of Calgarians. In some cases, crews were working right in residents’ back yards. Urban pipeline construction is unique in its complexity, not only on a technical level, but importantly with respect to the impacts on a broad range of community interests. This urban construction project has had a significant positive impact—not only on Antonio and his family, but thousands of other Calgary residents.


Modernizing the system


The NWCC is the final leg of ATCO’s Urban Pipeline Replacement Program, which began more than 10 years ago. Over the last decade, ATCO has updated and moved pipelines in Calgary and Edmonton to land that has been set aside for utilities. The NWCC replaces decades-old infrastructure, modernizing the system and adding capacity to serve the growing city.

“To have this ring of pipelines around the city will allow us to provide safe, reliable energy and growth for our system,” said Michelle Agar, Manager, Major Projects with ATCO’s Natural Gas Division.


Unique challenges of urban pipeline construction


Getting the pipe in the ground came with some unique challenges.

While traditional pipeline construction involves working in rural areas, the NWCC was built through the highly populated northwest quadrant of Calgary.

“Definitely traffic, logistics planning, access into and out of the sites, making sure the streets are clean and safe every day, and we have less room and smaller work sites,” said Nick Pentelichuk, President of Steel River Solutions, which led construction of the NWCC. “There are permitting requirements with the city, having to close streets and pathways for temporary times – it all adds another step of challenges.”

Pentelichuk says working in the city also leads to more conversations with residents—a lot of people are curious and have a lot of questions.

“We try to provide as much information as we can to let people know what we’re doing and why we’re there making noise during the day,” said Pentelichuk.


Working with the community


ATCO started working with the community long before construction began. The first open houses on the Urban Replacement Program were held more than 10 years ago. Since then, the company has issued more than 40,000 notifications and personally consulted with hundreds of landowners for the NWCC project. Five additional open houses were held after the final route was selected in 2018.

While consultation is an important part of every pipeline project, Agar says working in a densely populated area means there are more people to talk to.

“Typically, in a rural setting the number of residents within the route would be a lot less. You still have to consult with landowners but don’t have the same volume,” she said.


Making connections


While urban pipeline projects may take more planning and effort, they also deliver significant benefits to the communities they serve.

The NWCC will safely and responsibly deliver natural gas to thousands of Calgary homes and businesses, and it is the last project of ATCO’s Urban Replacement Program. Once final cleanup and reclamation are complete this summer, the community will look the same – or better – than it did before construction, with new pathways, trees and plants.

And perhaps most importantly, the connections made with the community, including the little boy who watched the construction crews with such admiration, will last a lifetime.

Special thanks to Nick Pentelichuk, President of Steel River Solutions and Michelle Agar, Manager, Major Projects with ATCO’s Natural Gas Division for their contributions to this article.