The evolution of pipelines in Canada

The history of pipelines in Canada dates back to 1853, when the first transmission pipeline was built in Quebec, Canada. It was a 25-kilometre cast-iron pipe that transported natural gas—the longest pipeline in the world at the time.

Nearly two centuries later, more than 118,000 kilometres of transmission pipelines stretch across Canada – safely transporting natural gas and oil that Canada and the world rely on. What started as simple cast-iron pipes in the ground have evolved to high tech, integrated systems operated by NASA-like control rooms. This evolution has resulted in pipelines being the safest, most responsible way to transport natural gas and oil.

Ancient pipelines

 

Pipelines have been used to transport water for thousands of years. Pipes made of clay or stone were widely used in Egypt and Rome, while hollow bamboo was used in China. In the 18th century, cast-iron pipes were introduced commercially. The 19th century brought the introduction of steel pipe, which made it possible to transport natural gas and oil across long distances.

The development of pipeline technology over the last 200 years has been fueled mainly by the discovery and increased demand for natural gas and oil.

History of energy pipelines in Canada

 

After that first cast-iron natural gas pipeline was built in 1853, Canada built one of the world’s first oil pipelines in 1862. It transported oil from an oilfield in Petrolia, Ontario to Sarnia, Ontario.

By 1947, three oil pipelines moved energy products in Canada. One transported oil from Turner Valley, Alberta to Calgary. The second line moved imported crude oil from coastal Maine to Montreal, Quebec, while a third brought American oil into Ontario.

With the discovery of an abundant supply of natural gas and crude oil in the west, Canada’s natural gas and oil industry began expanding its pipeline network in the late 1940s. This expansion was driven by improvements in the quality of steel and welding methods. High pressure crude oil pipelines were made possible with new research into pipe size and pumping station locations.

The role of the pipeline system itself has also evolved. Originally, pipelines were designed to carry just natural gas or crude oil. The system has since been modified to accommodate refined products, which can be “batched”.

Regulated from the early days

 

As the materials and technology for building pipelines evolved, so did the industry’s rules and regulations. The Pipeline Act of 1949 was created before seatbelts were even required. It laid the foundation for Canada’s pipelines to become the safest in the world.

As more pipelines were built and the network expanded across Canada and the United States, the regulations continued to develop. In the early days, new pipelines were approved in just days through a basic process. Over time, we have learned more about environmental protection and safety considerations, which are both top priorities for the industry. The process to approve a pipeline project now can take years and require extensive studies, engineering, consultations and other considerations.

Evolving for tomorrow

 

Today, the pipeline industry – and the broader energy industry – continues to evolve. As we look to the future, the energy mix the world relies on is changing as we address climate change. The transmission pipeline industry is leading the way with new technologies and creative innovations that are reducing the industry’s environmental footprint.

As the energy mix changes, pipelines will continue to be the safest, most responsible way to transport energy products – and emerging fuels such as hydrogen. The industry is committed to continuously improving and evolving to fuel a responsible energy future for Canada and the world.

Check out our “History of pipelines” page to get a brief history, in pictures, of the first 80 years of Canada’s pipeline industry.