Keeping pipelines safe – operating or not

A CER inspector observes work on a section of pipe being prepared for reactivation at a Trans Mountain site in Jasper, Alta.

A CER inspector observes work on a section of pipe being prepared for reactivation at a Trans Mountain site in Jasper, Alta.

The CER is responsible for keeping energy moving safely and efficiently through our country’s pipelines and powerlines. Companies answer to us as energy projects are planned, designed, built, operated and abandoned, and we enforce strict safety and environmental standards every step of the way.

When we think of safe energy infrastructure, the focus tends to be on pipelines actively transporting oil and gas products. What some may not realize is that the CER also enforces a number of regulations when a company intends to stop operating or “abandon” a pipeline.

A company may decide to take a pipeline out of service based on a number of factors, including when a line becomes uneconomic to maintain or operate, or if there are changes to demand on a particular route. Whether a pipeline is abandoned, decommissioned or deactivated, CER approval is required and companies have to follow specific rules to make sure that it is done safely.

Abandonment and decommissioning: What’s the difference?

When a pipeline is abandoned, it is permanently taken out of service and product delivery is stopped. Contrary to how the term abandonment is often used, a company remains responsible for an abandoned pipeline and it continues to be regulated by the CER. Companies must apply to the CER and meet specific safety, environmental and financial requirements to take the infrastructure out of service. The company must also work with potentially affected communities and Indigenous peoples. Landowners and the public are not liable for costs to abandon a pipeline. The company pays all costs, including cleaning up the surrounding area until it is reclaimed to meet the conditions of the abandonment approval.

Decommissioning differs from abandonment in that a pipeline is shut down but product delivery continues to the same end point through a new pipeline with the same or a similar route or a different pipeline within the same system. A pipeline may be decommissioned when a section of the pipeline is no longer needed or when a new pipeline replaces another pipeline and will provide the same service. The CER’s expectations and requirements to abandon or decommission a pipeline are set out in our regulations and Filing Manual (see Guide B and Guide K, respectively). These include the steps the company must take, verified by the CER, to prevent harm to people and the environment.

The CER’s role in the deactivation and reactivation of pipelines

So what happens when a pipeline is taken out of service temporarily, with the intention of returning it to service later? This is termed a deactivation and if the pipeline has not operated for more than one year, CER approval is required to make this operational change. The CER enforces specific regulations and guidance for deactivation. Similarly, when a company intends to reactivate a deactivated pipeline, the CER verifies and approves this work.

CER inspectors were recently in Jasper, B.C. to inspect one of two sections of pipeline Trans Mountain is working on reactivating. The 150 km section between Hinton, Alta. and Hargreaves, B.C., and a 43 km segment of pipeline from Darfield to Black Pines, B.C. are currently being prepared to return to service as part of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. In approving the project [Document A98021-1] the Commission put Conditions 19 and 152 [Document C00061-3] in place specifically to address Trans Mountain’s obligations for safely reactivating these two segments of pipeline.

While onsite, CER inspectors verified how the company was completing its evaluation of the condition of the pipeline using a variety of analysis techniques often referred to as non-destructive examination.

The inspectors reviewed the company’s overall integrity excavation plan, and observed the company’s examination of pipeline welds, joints and coatings for construction defects, cracks or corrosion. Repairs are being made to the deactivated pipeline. Once finalized, the CER’s final inspection report will be published on our website.

Canada’s vast federal energy network continues to evolve. As new projects are built and begin operating, and other infrastructure is taken out of service, whether temporarily or permanently, the CER’s priority is safety. Our strict regulations and oversight, regardless of a pipeline’s operational state, reflect our commitment to protecting people and the environment today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

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