Market Snapshot: “Greening” Canada’s pipeline infrastructure

Connect/Contact Us

Energy Information RSS Feed

Please send comments, questions, or suggestions for Market Snapshot topics to

Release date: 2022-01-12

The Canadian oil and gas sector was the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) in 2019, releasing 191.4 megatonnes (MT) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e),Footnote 1 making up 26.2% of Canadian greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Of those emissions, 10.7 MT CO2e were emitted from pipeline transportation activities consisting of gas combustion at compressor stations and fugitive gas emissionsDefinition*. Many pipeline companies are actively working to reduce their carbon footprint by electrifying compressor stations, improving leak detection, and implementing waste heat recovery.

Compressor stations are used on natural gas pipelines to re-pressurize the gas in order to keep it flowing efficiently over long distances and changing elevations. Compressor stations are usually powered by natural gas drawn from the pipeline, consuming a significant amount of energy and creating GHG emissions. These emissions could be reduced or eliminated by utilizing electricity, provided that it originates from a low-carbon source, rather than natural gas. Oil pipelines tend to use electric motors to power the pumping equipment that pressurizes crude oil, and therefore emit fewer GHG emissions than natural gas pipelines.

In 2019, emissions resulting from pipeline transport,Footnote 2 primarily emissions related to combustion at compressor stations, accounted for 8.3 MTDefinition* CO2e.Footnote 3 According to the National Inventory Report (NIR), transportation of western Canadian natural gas to Eastern Canada was the main driver of pipeline transport emissions. The amount of gas transported from west to east has decreased since 1999, displaced by gas imports from the northeastern U.S. This proximity reduced the usage of compressor stations and therefore contributed to a decrease in emissions from natural gas pipelines, falling from 12.6 MT CO2e in 1999 to 5.6 MT CO2e in 2011 (shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1: Canadian GHG emissions from pipeline transport, 1990-2019

Source and Description

Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada: Canada's Official Greenhouse Gas Inventory - Open Government Portal

Description: This area chart shows the changes in energy related greenhouse gas emissions in MT CO2e from pipeline transport in Canada from 1990 to 2019. It captures GHG emissions associated with the combustion of fuel, primarily natural gas, at compressor stations. During this period, emissions reached its peak in 1999 at 12.6 MT CO2e. In the following decade, emissions decreased as gas imports from the U.S. displaced inter-regional transfers from western Canada.

In 2019, unintentional fugitive releases from oil, natural gas, and CO2 transmission pipelines accounted for 1.4 MT CO2e and fugitives from natural gas distribution pipelines accounted for 1.0 MT CO2e.Footnote 4 Such leaks can be caused by corrosion, equipment failure, old equipment, damage from nearby excavation, or natural forces (such as earth movements or heavy rain). To reduce these emissions, leak detection systems can be installed.

The three basic leak detection systems are internal, external, and visual inspections. The most widely used internal method is the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, which is a series of software and hardware elements that collect data such as pressure, flow rates, and temperature. The computational pipeline monitoring (CPM) system is an addition to SCADA that detects possible leaks. External systems use sensors to detect escaped fluids and are typically located outside the pipe. Examples of external systems include acoustic devices, temperature or liquid sensing fibre optic cables, and infrared cameras. Visual inspection systems examine the pipeline from the outside, which can be done by aerial patrol (drone or helicopter) or ground patrol. “Detector dogs” have been trained to sniff out leaks as well. The CER is responsible for verifying that companies have implemented a pipeline control system that includes a leak detection system, in compliance with the Onshore Pipeline Regulations.Footnote 5

Figure 2: Canadian GHG emissions from fugitive releases in oil and natural gas pipelines, 2014-2019

Source and Description

Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada. National Inventory Reports from 2014 to 2019, Annex 10: Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Tables by Canadian Economic Sector.

Description: This area chart shows the trends in greenhouse gas emissions in MT CO2e resulting from unintentional fugitive releases from oil, natural gas, and CO2 transmission pipelines and natural gas distribution pipelines in Canada from 2014 to 2019. In these five years, there has been little change in the amount of fugitive emissions released from these sources.

*Note that prior to 2018, the calculation of fugitives for transmission pipelines included only oil and natural gas. Fugitives from CO2 pipelines were included beginning in 2018.

Lastly, waste heat recovery methods can be used to recover exhaust heat from gas turbines. Electricity can be generated through the Organic Rankine Cycle, which is a thermodynamic cycle that converts heat into electricity. The electricity produced by this process can be supplied to the electricity grid or used by other industries located near the compressor station, increasing the overall efficiency of the compressor station.

Figure 3 below provides examples of past, current, and planned projects that use various methods to reduce GHG emissions from pipeline infrastructure.

Figure 3: Examples of projects in Canada and the U.S. designed to reduce the GHG emissions of pipeline infrastructure

Project Location Description Status
Enbridge’s Alberta Solar One Burdett, Alberta A solar energy facility consisting of 36 000 solar panels generates 10.5 megawatts (MW) to supply a portion of the Canadian Mainline oil pipeline system's power requirements. Entered service in April 2021.
Enbridge solar projects at compressor stations Tyrone Township, Pennsylvania and West Amwell Township, New Jersey The Heidlersburg Solar Project uses 8 190 solar panels to provide 2.5 MW of solar energy to the Heidlersburg Compressor Station and the Lambertville Solar Project provides 2.25 MW of solar energy to the Lambertville Compressor Station, both on the Texas Eastern Transmission natural gas pipeline in the U.S. Heidlersburg entered service in May 2021, Lambertville entered service in September 2020.
Methane reduction at TC Energy compressor stations Alberta TC Energy piloted the use of two Enclosed Vapour Combustor (EVC) units on a compressor station on the NGTL system. EVCs reduce methane emissions by converting it into water vapour and CO2. Pilot launched in spring 2021.
Enbridge solar projects at pump stations Central Wisconsin and Flanagan, Illinois Four solar projects along the U.S. Mainline and Flanagan South crude and liquids systems, to be located at existing pump stations. Estimated to enter service in late 2022.
TC Energy wind and solar projects Pipelines along U.S. corridor TC Energy issued a Request for Information in April 2021 to identify potential contracts for wind/solar energy projects to meet the electricity needs for a portion of its pipeline assets along its U.S. corridor. Ongoing as of December 2021.
Fibre-optic based monitoring system Alberta TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline and Enbridge’s Norlite pipeline are testing a fibre-optic system developed by Calgary-based HiFi Engineering to monitor pipelines for leaks. Since 2017.
Thermal surveillance leak detection system Alberta Pilot test of thermal video analytics technology, created by Calgary-based IntelliView Technologies, at a pump station on TC Energy’s Keystone Pipeline System in Alberta. 2015-2016.
TC Energy and Siemens Energy partnership on waste heat recovery Alberta Pilot project located at one of TC Energy’s compressor stations in Alberta will use supercritical carbon dioxideFootnote 6 (sCO2) as the working fluid to recover waste heat from a gas turbine and convert it to electricity. Estimated to enter service in late 2022.
Waste heat recovery on the Alliance Pipeline systemFootnote 7 Kerrobert, Loreburn, Estlin and Alameda, Saskatchewan, and Whitecourt, Alberta NRGreen Power operates four waste heat recovery facilities located at compressor stations along the Alliance system in Saskatchewan, adding 20 MW of power to the local electricity provider, SaskPower. Another heat recovery unit is located in Alberta and generates 14 MW of electricity. Saskatchewan facilities built in 2008, Alberta facility built in 2014
Waste heat recovery on Westcoast system (formerly Spectra Energy)Footnote 8 Savona, B.C. and 150 Mile House, B.C. Waste heat recovery units are located at two compressor stations, chosen for their proximity to BC Hydro’s electrical grid. The two projects produce 10 MW of electricity. Entered service in 2008
Source and Description

Source: Various, links included in figure.

Description: This table provides examples of past, current, and planned projects that utilize the methods of electrifying compressor stations, improving leak detection, and waste heat recovery to reduce GHG emissions.

Date modified: