Urban sprawl and pipelines – a look at safe expansion (part 2) 

This is part two of our ‘urban sprawl and pipelines’ series, which looks at the measures pipeline operators are taking to manage expanding cities and the increasing demand for energy.

Last week, we explored how the transportation/utility corridors (TUCs) in Calgary and Edmonton are providing a safe, restricted development area for pipelines and utility rights of way.

This week we’re taking a closer look at Calgary’s TUC, the area where ATCO Pipelines is currently relocating and replacing some of its vintage high-pressure natural gas pipelines as part of their Urban Pipeline Replacement (UPR) Program.

urban pipeline replacement

Horizontal directional drilling is used to thread the pipeline underneath the surface.

Specifically, we’ll be focussing on the Northeast Calgary Connector (NECC) project, one of several UPR projects that will improve public safety, modernize the natural gas network and add capacity for the increasing energy demand of a growing city.

Protecting birds, soil and wetlands

There are many safety and environmental considerations for a project like this, which is why ATCO Pipelines thoroughly assessed the environmental factors before construction began.

Curtis Clark, group leader of environment with ATCO Pipelines, explained:

During the planning stage, as with all of our projects, we had environmental experts complete desktop and field assessments for the selected [pipeline] route. The experts analyzed numerous environmental features, including soils, vegetation, wildlife, aquatic areas and historical resources.

ATCO Pipelines used this assessment to develop an environmental protection plan outlining the processes and measures that will limit the impact of construction. An inspection team, including environmental experts, is on-site during construction to ensure those recommendations are followed.

During the early stages of the NECC project, construction activities were limited because of nesting birds in the area. ATCO Pipelines had biologists assess the nests and confirm when the young birds were able to fly. Only then did work begin.

Laying pipeline in a bustling metropolis

Calgary’s a busy city, which added challenges to this project because of the number of roads and infrastructure in the area. In addition, the  new pipeline had to cross several wetlands where waterfowl and migratory birds gather.

That’s why ATCO Pipelines used horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to drill tunnels under the road/wetlands and thread the pipeline through to avoid disturbing the surface area. This method was used at 12 different locations throughout the project, with the longest drill being over 1,000 meters long! The company is also working with the Alberta Energy Regulator and the landowners to provide information about construction and address questions and concerns.

Scott Salmon, project manager with ATCO Pipelines, said:

Public safety on roads, and minimizing delays to the public during construction activities is crucial. In some instances where drilling is taking place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it has also been necessary to implement sound and light mitigating measures at certain locations in closer proximity to residents.

A barrier helps reduce construction noise.

Like all CEPA members, ATCO Pipelines has made safety and environmental protection top priorities in the Northeast Calgary Connector project, using innovative methods and following industry best practices to limit their impact on the area.

Next week, in the final post of this series, you’ll see the project in action and learn about the measures that are taken to ensure employee and public safety and the ongoing integrity of the pipeline.

Check out part one in this series, as well as this earlier blog post which explains ATCO Pipelines’ Urban Pipeline Replacement Project.


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.