Pipe Dreams: Bringing Energy to the People
More than 430,000 kilometres of pipelines crisscross Alberta, carrying the province’s energy resources to markets inside and outside our borders.
One of the earliest pipelines, built by Northwestern Utilities in 1923, was a 250-kilometre delivery and distribution network that brought natural gas from the Viking field to the bustling city of Edmonton. Residents could finally use gas instead of coal for heating, lighting, and cooking.
The project took 116 days to complete and initially served 1,880 customers.
Just over a decade earlier, in 1912, the province’s first pipeline was built by Canadian Western. It delivered natural gas 270 kilometres from Bow Island to Calgary, serving seven other southern Alberta communities along the way.
In the 1950s, Alberta’s pipeline network expanded significantly after the discovery of the Leduc and Redwater oilfields. Two key projects— the Interprovincial and Trans Mountain pipelines—were built to deliver swelling volumes of crude oil to markets across Canada and the U.S.
Heralded as historic feats of engineering, the new pipelines spanned the country east and west, ushering in an era of economic growth and prosperity for Canadians.
Interprovincial was the first to be completed in 1950, constructed from 175,000 tons of steel. That’s enough to build five battleships. Engineers used aerial photographs to map the shortest and most efficient route.
The world’s longest petroleum pipeline, it extended 1,850 kilometres southeast from Edmonton to Superior, Wisconsin, with connections to refineries in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. Finished in just 150 days, Interprovincial set a record as the world’s largest pipeline built in a single season.
As work wrapped up on the Interprovincial, engineers for the Trans Mountain project were busy studying the best way west for a pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C.
The topographical challenges along the 1,150-kilometre route were many. Over the rugged Rockies. Through valleys and swamps. Across 72 rivers.
Despite the demanding terrain, the Trans Mountain took crews only 18 months to build. The first shipment of oil reached the coast in 1953.
History in the Making
Another massive engineering project—with a geoscience twist— will soon make more pipeline history in Alberta. Operations for the 240-kilometre Alberta Carbon Trunk Line are set to begin in APEGA’s centennial year, 2020.
It will be Alberta’s first, large-scale commercial project for carbon capture utilization and storage project. It will also be the world’s longest carbon dioxide pipeline.
Carbon emissions produced by the North West Redwater Sturgeon Refinery and the nearby Nutrien fertilizer plant will be captured and liquified, then piped south to a facility near Clive, north of Red Deer.
From there, the CO₂ will be pumped 1,800 metres underground into depleted oil reservoirs, where it will push out previously unrecoverable oil and remain permanently trapped.
It’s estimated this enhanced oil recovery technology will allow producers to squeeze an additional one billion barrels of oil from aging fields in central Alberta. At full capacity, the project will store up 14.6 million tonnes of CO₂ per year—the equivalent of removing 2.6 million cars from the road.
No other crude oil produced in the world will have a lower net carbon impact than the oil recovered from the Clive field.
Partners in the carbon trunk line include Enhance Energy, Wolf Carbon Solutions, the refinery and fertilizer plants near Redwater, and the provincial and federal governments.
Carbon dioxide from Redwater will travel via the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line to Clive, where it will be pumped 1,800 metres underground into depleted oil reservoirs. After helping push oil out of the reservoir and up to the surface, the CO₂ will remain permanently trapped in the earth.