Urban sprawl and pipelines – a look at safe expansion (part 1) 

Did you know that some homes in Canada have been receiving natural gas by pipeline since the early 1900s? Back then, when natural gas was primarily used to power lamps, people would have marvelled at the prospect of ‘light’ being delivered directly to their homes, but these days it’s easy to take for granted the complex underground network that delivers our natural gas, electricity, water and more.

Of course, as Canadian cities grow, that underground infrastructure becomes ever more elaborate – it takes a great deal of planning and coordination to bring utilities to new neighbourhoods and update services in older ones.

One of the problems with this rapid urban growth is that utilities, which may have been underground for decades, are providing vital services to many more people than they were originally intended for.

Natural gas is no exception, and this week we’ll look at what’s being done to safely expand transmission pipeline networks in Alberta’s two largest cities, to meet the needs of a growing population.

It starts with transportation/utility corridors

As natural gas and other providers face challenges like aging infrastructure, urban sprawl and growing demand, the Government of Alberta has implemented a solution to the problem, in the form of Transportation/Utility Corridors (TUCs). These were established in the 1970s as Restricted Development Areas (RDAs) in both Calgary and Edmonton, as part of a long-term plan for transportation and utilities. Forming a band around the cities, they are designed to provide a safe corridor for a ring road, major power lines, pipelines, regional water and sewer lines and telecommunication lines. Because any activity that will disturb the land in the TUC requires written authorization, all utilities in the corridor will be protected against third party damage. It will also provide easy access for maintenance.

Transportation/utility corridor

Courtesy of Government of Alberta, Ministry of Infrastructure

Urban pipeline replacement and TUCs

The corridors are a safe place for high-pressure transmission lines, which bring natural gas from processing plants and connect in with lower pressure distribution lines that take gas into homes and businesses.

ATCO Pipelines’ Urban Pipeline Replacement Program, approved in 2014 by the Alberta Utilities Commission, is one initiative to replace and relocate vintage high-pressure natural gas pipelines in Calgary and Edmonton to within the TUCs. A number of pipeline projects will take place within Calgary and Edmonton as part of the UPR Program over the coming years, improving public safety, modernizing the natural gas network and adding capacity to meet growing demand for natural gas.

Stay tuned for part two in this series – next week we’ll be talking with Scott Salmon, project manager with ATCO Pipelines, to learn more about the Northeast Calgary Connector, one of three UPR projects currently underway in Calgary, We’ll look at the safety and environmental concerns that have to be taken into account for a project of this scale, and learn about the special considerations for pipeline replacement in an urban environment.


The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 117,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2014, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 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.