Asset Integrity

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association recognizes that pipelines are a safe and efficient means of transporting large quantities of crude oil and natural gas over land.

The combination of pipelines, rail and truck help our industry connect customers with the energy projects they need. Plains Midstream Canada (PMC) owns 8,500 km of pipeline in North America, and with the ownership of those assets comes responsibility for inspection, maintenance, and repairs. As part of our commitment to asset integrity, we run a Pipeline Integrity Management Program. Here are just a few of the things that involves:

Pipeline Inspections

PMC conducts in-line, internal inspections (ILIs) of pipelines that allow us to understand, track and monitor the conditions of steel from inside the pipeline. This involves tools that travel through the pipeline and to detect potential corrosion and pitting such as:

  • Magnetic flux leakage tools also known as “smart pigs” which travel inside the pipeline and use sensors to identify anomalies.
  • Ultrasonic and electromagnetic crack detection tools which identify possible crack features in metals that can cause failures in pipelines.

Where possible, ILI tools include inertial mapping unit technology which maps the geographical co-ordinates of the ILI tool as it passes through the pipeline during an inspection. This confirms the location of our pipeline centerline and appurtenances such as block valves and pig traps which are then captured back into our GIS database. Using this information, PMC can identify the specific location of the pipeline relative to watercourse crossings and other geotechnical concerns.  

In addition to regulatory requirements, the frequency of in-line inspections is determined by other factors such as history, age and condition of the pipeline.

Integrity Digs

PMC spends $30 to $45 million per year conducting 400 to 750 integrity digs along our 8,500 km of pipeline. A dig is undertaken when our monitoring and inspection program determines there is a need for a visual inspection. The following simplified steps are taken:

Step 1: Earth above a pipeline is removed and the line is exposed for inspection.

Step 2: The exposed pipe is cleaned and examined for defects or weakness such as a dent or corrosion.

Step 3: If a repair is required, options include; installation of a metal sleeve over the damaged feature, recoating and the re-burying the pipe. In some cases, we may opt to cut out the pipe section and replace it with a new pipe, or we may continue to monitor.

Block Valves

Pipeline block valves stop the flow of product within a pipeline. Our block valve optimization study commissioned in 2010 resulted in the automation of approximately 30 block valves from 2012 to 2013. Automated block valves can be closed in approximately three minutes by our centralized Olds Control Centre.

Watercourse Inspection Program

PMC completed a major review of all programs and processes surrounding pipeline watercourse crossings. We have improved our Watercourse Inspection Program and in 2013 we developed enhanced monitoring programs to increase our understanding of the effects of high stream flows on pipelines crossing underneath rivers and streams.

With new pipeline construction, or to lower the risk of an existing watercourse crossing, pipelines are installed under the watercourse using Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD).

HDD is a relatively low impact method of boring underneath the riverbed into the bedrock to remove the pipeline from any potential exposure to the watercourse. Pipelines are then pulled through the bored HDD hole.

Pre-Emptive Shut-Ins

Our progressive flood monitoring program utilizes Environment Canada’s streamflow gauges and snow melt data to provide continuous monitoring of streamflow at our pipeline watercourse crossings.

We receive automated notifications on this basis for predetermined flow rate thresholds, we make decisions courses of action up to and including shutting-in and purging of the pipeline to mitigate risk of pipeline damages

During some of the worst flooding in Alberta’s history in May/June 2013, PMC pre-emptively shut-in four pipelines in southern Alberta based on Alberta Environment’s streamflow advisories. Once the flood waters rose, we continued to shut in every pipeline south of Red Deer and west of Highway 2 to ensure no incidents occurred as a result.

Purging Pipelines

Pipelines are shut-in and purged when PMC believes there is a high risk of failure due to mechanical or environmental conditions such as flooding, or when transportation demand is low. 

NEB Land Matters Consultation Initiative

In late 2007, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced the Land Matters Consultation Initiative (LMCI). The LMCI was launched by the NEB as a forum to engage with interested stakeholders and organizations on making improvements in matters related to land and federally regulated pipelines. One of the key areas for consideration in the LMCI was pipeline abandonment funding.

After extensive public consultation, the NEB issued its RH-2-2008 Reasons for Decision that laid out the guiding principles and an action plan to address the monetary costs of pipeline abandonment. In accordance with that action plan the NEB ordered its regulated companies to begin collecting and setting aside funds for the eventual abandonment of their NEB-regulated facilities, starting in 2015.

In response to the NEB’s direction, Plains Midstream Canada (PMC) began collecting and setting aside funds for future abandonment in January of 2015. Because pipelines are built to operate safely for many decades, we have no current plans to abandon any of our NEB-regulated pipelines. However, as a prudent operator we are collecting these funds for eventual abandonment that may occur many years in the future.

PMC has chosen to use Qualifying Environmental Trusts (QETs) to set aside funds for future pipeline abandonment. A QET is a special kind of trust under the Income Tax Act maintained exclusively to accumulate funds to finance the future reclamation of a qualifying site (like a pipeline) in Canada.

The following PMC NEB-regulated assets will have funds placed into their own separate QETs:

• Aurora Pipeline

• Bodo Pipeline

• Empress - Kerrobert Pipeline*

• Milk River Pipeline

• Sarnia Downstream System

• Wapella Pipeline

• Wascana Pipeline

• Windsor-Sarnia Pipeline + Kalkaska Pipeline + Eastern Delivery Systems

• Windsor Storage Facility

    * Plains has a 50 percent ownership and is the operator of the Empress-Kerrobert Pipeline. As such, PMC is responsible for submission of the NEB compliance filings related to the QET for this asset, into which funds are being set aside by PMC and its joint venture partner.

    PMC will report annually to the NEB on our progress towards funding future abandonment costs. We will make these reports available on our website in early 2016.

    For further information from PMC about this initiative please contact:

    More information on the NEB’s Land Matters Consultation Initiative

    More on pipeline abandonment