The first steps of a pipeline project

Deciding where a pipeline should be built can take years. Engineers, environmental experts, and hundreds of others evaluate a variety of safety, environmental and technical factors to determine the route.

A thorough assessment of the proposed right-of-way and its surrounding natural environment is done to identify the unique features that must be protected throughout the life of the pipeline. A variety of factors must be taken into consideration, including:

Environment
Analyzing environmentally sensitive areas that need to be avoided, and having environmental experts complete an assessment of the entire proposed pipeline route. The assessment looks at the project’s effects on everything from the soil, water and wildlife; to Canada’s ability to meet its climate change commitments.

Indigenous groups 
Working closely with Indigenous groups to identify treaty lands, reserves or traditional land use.

Landowners
Determining who owns the land and what it is currently used for.

Infrastructure
Mapping out existing third-party infrastructure, such as underground structures, power lines, roads and railways.

Stakeholders
Working with local communities to understand their needs, concerns and plans.

Geography
Avoiding geohazards such as steep slopes, landslides and seismic faults.

Road access
Determining how construction and maintenance teams will access the area where the pipeline is buried – known as the pipeline right-of-way.

Emergency response
Determining the most efficient access for emergency crews and their equipment to access the right-of-way in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Climate
Studying seasonal variations in temperature and weather.

Designing the pipeline

Operators consider several factors in a pipeline’s design, including the distance to be traveled, the expected product volumes, and the type of product that will be flowing through the pipe. These factors determine the required thickness of the pipe and how many pumping or compressor stations are needed to keep products flowing safely.

Dozens of highly trained and skilled experts are involved in the pipeline design stage including engineers, environmental experts, biologists, agrologists, hydrologists, archaeologists, geologists, sociologists and climatologists. They consider many factors including environmentally sensitive areas, wildlife, waterways, nearby communities, historical sites, seasonal variations in temperature, climate and terrain.

Applying to the regulator

Once the safest route is determined and the preliminary design is complete – covering all aspects of safety and efficiency – then an application is filed. Often thousands of pages long, the application is the result of hundreds of people working for many years.

The regulatory approval process is detailed and robust to ensure engineering, safety and environmental requirements are met. The regulator examines all aspects of the project including economic, technical and financial feasibility, environmental and socio-economic impacts, as well as any impacts on Indigenous groups.

Engaging Indigenous groups

Transmission pipeline projects have robust engagement programs to ensure Indigenous groups are involved throughout the lifecycle of a pipeline project. This is an opportunity to build or enhance relationships between pipeline companies and Indigenous groups, based on trust and mutual benefit.

CEPA has developed guiding principles, which highlight the industry’s commitment to its relationship with Indigenous groups.

Engaging landowners and stakeholders

Building and operating a pipeline requires access to land that may be owned, occupied and used by others. Pipeline company employees meet with landowners and other stakeholders to explain the project, get their feedback and, if appropriate, discuss compensation for the pipeline crossing their land.

Everyone who will be impacted by the project is given the opportunity to learn more and provide input and feedback. This phase can last months or even years to ensure any issues or concerns are addressed.

This is a relationship for life; operators make sure it is a cooperative and respectful relationship.

Seeking approval

When reviewing the detailed route plans, the regulator will take stakeholders’ concerns into account while considering many other factors, such as safety, security, environmental issues and construction schedules.

If the pipeline route is approved, the operator gets the land agreements from landowners, and the pipeline specifications have been decided, construction of the pipeline can begin.

welding an energy pipeline

Construction of a pipeline can only take place after the operator has received regulatory approval and has secured land permissions as well as other permits. Photo courtesy of Alliance Pipeline.

aerial view of a pipeline route

Pipeline operators choose a route that delivers product in the safest and most responsible way possible. Photo courtesy of Alliance Pipeline.

pipeline route alongside a lake

Protecting the environment is a critical part of routing and design, and involves many experts conducting thorough studies. Photo courtesy of Trans Mountain.

Related Content
How pipelines are regulatedCanadian pipeline regulations
Operating, maintaining and retiring a pipelineKeeping pipelines running until retirement