The everyday power of pipelines

What do the following everyday items have in common?

  • Band-Aids
  • Bicycle, hockey and ski helmets
  • Life jackets
  • Toothbrushes
  • Heart valves
  • Running shoes
  • Bicycle tires
  • Waterproof jackets

All of these items help our families live safe and healthy lives. But that’s not the only thing that links them – they also have a connection to pipelines. Pipelines are one of the safest and most efficient means of transporting large quantities of crude oil and natural gas. This crude oil is used to manufacture many of the household products we use on a daily basis, including the ones listed above.

But the connection doesn’t stop there. Pipelines, and the energy they transport, play a big role in our everyday lives. From the heat that warms our homes, to the gas that powers our cars, these convenient fuels are made from energy sources that are often concentrated in areas far away from where these fuels are used — this is where pipelines come in.

According to Kim McCaig, Vice-President and COO of Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the role of pipelines in our daily lives is bigger than we realize because pipelines operate safely and efficiently underground, so we’re not even aware of their presence: 

“I think most Canadians would be surprised by how much a role this energy plays in their everyday lives, as these pipeline systems are so reliable that they only see the end result.” 

Pipelines bring the comforts of home

Canada is known for our frigid winters and a toasty-warm home is a welcome respite from the cold. For most Canadians, this comes courtesy of a furnace fuelled by pipelines. In fact, the majority of (90%) furnaces in Canada generate heat by burning a fuel such as natural gas.

But climate control isn’t the only pipeline-fed comfort of home – in fact, most of the amenities that make a house a home come courtesy of the crude oil and natural gas transported by pipelines:

“These fossil fuels are key to our way of life – from how we heat and cool our homes and how we cook our food, to the electricity we use and the vast majority of the goods we use to go about our daily routines – these are all created by utilizing this energy,” says McCaig.

Planes, pipelines and automobiles

Every day Canadians pull into gas stations to purchase fuel for their vehicles. It’s such a routine activity that many of us take it for granted. This on-demand access to fuel is a direct result of the efficiency of transmission pipelines, says Peter Boag, President of the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute: 

“Pipelines are an essential component of our fuel supply system. They are a safe and efficient mode of transport for refinery feedstocks and refined products that help ensure Canadians have access to the right fuels at the right place at the right time.” 

Just how much do we rely on pipelines when we travel? Ninety-four percent of all Canadian transportation energy comes from petroleum products. Whether you hit the road or take to the sky, chances are the vehicle you’re riding in is fuelled by gasoline. But the link between pipelines and transportation doesn’t stop there: the products that stock the shelves of our grocery and department stores are transported by freight vehicles fuelled by diesel. 

Pipelines fuel our economy

Chances are you know someone who works in the pipeline and energies industries. According to a 2011 report by the Petroleum Human Resources Council, these industries employ 186,635 (as of 2011) Canadians coast to coast. And every year since 2007, Canadian pipelines have delivered over $100 billion worth of energy to Canadian energy users and export consumers. 

A new perspective on pipelines

Pipelines transport millions of barrels of oil and natural gas underground every single day. We don’t see this happening, but we experience the resulting energy firsthand in many aspects of our daily lives, notes Bob Oliver, in his Primer on Energy Systems in Canada:

“We usually focus on where our energy comes from, how much it costs or how abundant the supplies are. It is important to remember that what we are really interested in is what the energy can do for us.”

For more examples of how pipelines play a role in our daily lives, check out these diagrams: 

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 percent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.