The Pipeline Puzzle

By: Michael Connors Issue: Energy & The Environment Section: Jewel Of Collaboration

Connecting Communities, Resources, & the Environment

Pipeline Puzzle As the rush to a “New Energy Economy” captures the imagination of the world, there are those that understand no “New Energy” is a comprehensive remedy.

While everyone would prefer that solar or wind be used exclusively, this pipe dream is not currently realistic. What comes to the forefront, then, is the importance of developing traditional sources of energy in a more efficient and environmentally sound manner.

TransCanada, a leader in energy distribution, is working to expand American energy access to the oil sands of Alberta and the gas-rich Alaskan North Slope through an extensive pipeline network. Moving 20% of America’s oil and gas energy needs through their pipeline, TransCanada is taking it upon themselves to develop cutting-edge procedures that make oil and gas more available and that are transported in an environmentally conscientious way.

A pipeline is a very real symbol of the connections we have between communities, energy resources, and the environment

A pipeline is a very real symbol of the connections we have between communities, energy resources, and the environment – thus TransCanada pipeline expansions like the Keystone Project and the proposed TC Alaskan pipeline are conceived and executed with an acute sense of environmental responsibility and community development.

The Alternative Integrity Validation Process

Building energy infrastructure is vital to the operations of a modern world, and TransCanada has developed a multidimensional approach to pipeline installation and materials handling that will help eliminate out-dated modes of environmental testing. New quality control measures will also significantly reduce the risk of pipeline breaches. The Alternative Integrity Validation process is one such technique, currently under development, that could change the very nature of pipeline-health assessment and ultimately help prevent ruptures. Essentially, the goal is to so tightly monitor the development of the pipe from manufacturing to installation, as to effectively eliminate the possibility of failure. According to a 2007 TransCanada report:

“We have been field testing a new process for confirming the integrity of new pipeline installations. Called the Alternative Integrity Validation (AIV) process, this approach may eventually do away with the negative environmental impact of the time-consuming and costly post-construction hydrostatic test that has been an industry standard for many years.”

Assuring a pipe’s integrity could eliminate the need for the hydrostatic tests currently employed and has far-reaching implications for pipeline development. Moving away from the hydrostatic test would also mean that fresh water is no longer needed to run through the pipe and then captured and purified, saving time, money and helping the environment.

But one process alone will not be enough to assure a safe method of transmission. Conceivably, then, the Alternative Integrity Validation is one piece to a larger environmental protection strategy that involves multiple layers of security. The TransCanada 2007 report lists several such practices:

“In conjunction with the AIV process, TransCanada employs Environmental Protection Plans for contractors, utilizes independent environmental inspectors, immediate reclamation after construction, the development of compliance calendars and manuals for all locations, Environmental Site Assessments and a comprehensive tracking and monitoring program designed to take in account any regulatory changes where TransCanada operates. Once pipeline has been laid, an extensive maintenance program is also utilized, and when pipeline inspections are required: TransCanada uses environmentally responsible mitigation measures to eliminate, minimize, or manage any effects of the maintenance programs. Examples of mitigation measures during the maintenance programs include: keeping topsoil separate from the subsoil during excavation; limiting vehicle traffic on site during adverse weather; and re-seeding excavation sites as required.”

Because of their commitment to the environment, TransCanada has been recognized with awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Natural Gas STAR Program at TransCanada’s Great Lakes Gas Transmission Company (GLGT) operations for 12 years of continuing excellence in its efforts to report, measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. TransCanada was also named to the Global 100, a list of the world’s top 100 sustainable corporations. The Global 100 recognizes corporations that demonstrate a better ability than their industry peers to manage environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities

Simply put, the pipeline industry is in great need of innovative environmental strategies in order to counteract a negative public perception (commonly perpetuated by special interest groups) of energy gathering and distribution. Therefore, by combining the AIV process with multiple layers of environmental policy, TransCanada is helping to minimize the risk of very public and notorious environmental disasters.

The Keystone Project

By opening access to the tar sands of Alberta and bridging the resource to the refining capabilities of the Gulf Coast, TransCanada, in conjunction with Conoco, will be greatly increasing the availability of crude oil to the U.S. Exploration, production and transportation within the North American boundaries helps the U.S. and Canada refrain from importing oil from foreign, and possibly hostile, countries. The 2007 report demonstrates the scope of the project. “The Keystone expansion includes an approximate 3,200-kilometre (1,980-mile), 36-inch crude oil pipeline starting at Hardisty, Alberta and extending south to a delivery point near existing terminals in Port Arthur, Texas and, subject to shipper support, will include an additional approximate 80-kilometre (50-mile) pipeline lateral to the Houston, Texas area. With the addition of incremental pumping facilities, the Keystone Pipeline system could be further expanded from 1.1 million barrels per day to 1.5 million barrels per day.”

An additional benefit is the economic growth spurred by the investment on construction all along the pipeline route. Perhaps no other project best exemplifies TransCanada’s commitment to community growth and development since the pipeline runs through so many American towns. According to a recent AP article, “Work on the TransCanada Keystone oil pipeline in southeast South Dakota is expected to begin in mid-May with several hundred workers using Yankton as construction headquarters for much of the year.” Yankton Mayor, Dan Specht says, “We appreciate what TransCanada has done, especially in terms of communication.” Then reflecting on R.R. McGillvray of TransCanada, Specht noted, “It’s been at least a couple of years that you’ve been looking at this area, and you’ve been upfront all along.” Anyone who collaborates knows that communication is paramount.

Consider for a moment the link between healthy communities and a healthy ecosystem. When projects are sustainable in North America, then stricter environmental laws can be observed. It is well known environmental laws in many oil-producing countries are typically weak and not enforced and those supplies are simply shipped here. And, when local communities are involved in the decision making processes, they tend to focus very heavily on environmental consequences since they will have to live with any disasters.

TransCanada Alaskan Pipeline Project

Current projects like Keystone shine a light on the necessity for responsible growth, but the TransCanada Alaskan Pipeline proposal highlights the need for planning and action over the long-term. An estimated $30 billion project, the Alaska pipeline would connect the North Slope to the Alaskan highway and then to Alberta where the gas can be distributed to the North American territories. This is a project that has been in the proposal stages for many years, and at long last, TransCanada has stepped up to take a leadership role to make it happen. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin noted recently, “The actions by TransCanada and FERC help bring Alaska and the Nation one step closer to providing a secure, abundant, and environmentally responsible source of energy to hungry markets in the United States. I look forward to continuing to work with FERC and all interested parties to continue to move this critical project forward.” Collaboration and communication throughout the development process is the only way to involve communities in their own economic development while addressing environmental concerns that are vital to localities.

While the TC Alaskan Pipeline may still be in the feasibility stages, (estimated completion in 2018) it is critical that new projects are proposed, developed and constructed so that energy demands can be met. At a time when companies are scaling back on their vision and investments, it is more important than ever that some maintain a focus on the very real demands of an economy still based on traditional energies.

The transition to green energies is still in its infancy, and leaders in states that work with oil and gas understand their profound importance in the every-day lives of their citizens. Competent leaders see the connections between energy, distribution, sustainable communities and environmental protection. There is common ground.

At the end of the day, we can see the very physical way in which pipelines connect communities with each other and the impact on the environment a pipeline may have along the way. Yet these big metal tubes are also a metaphorical connection between us and the world we live in. They connect us to the energy we need to sustain our standard of living: they connect us to the broader world in which we live and, more importantly, they connect us to each other.

Stringently enforcing environmental laws and encouraging innovation in the industry, we can create a safer and more sustainable energy source while diminishing the dependence on foreign countries that have little or no interest in environmental protection. And it is important that we have organizations like TransCanada who share this vision. While continuing to grow the energy infrastructure that is so vital to the operations of a modern world, TransCanada’s multi-layered approach to pipeline safety and materials handling help eliminate out-dated modes of environmental safety, ushering in a new era of conservation. Taking a birds-eye view, we see the importance of collaboration when we see the ways in which something like a pipeline can bring together communities, environment and the energy that makes it all run.