For all pipeline projects, route selection is key to helping avoid and/or minimize the environmental and social impacts. This was also true of Anchor Loop, as the existing Trans Mountain pipeline system was located in an established transportation corridor of historic and contemporary significance.
The original pipeline route was selected, in 1952, to take advantage of the Yellowhead Pass at the western edge of Jasper National Park — one of the few suitable low-elevation passes through the Continental Divide and the Canadian Rockies. The Yellowhead Pass has long been used as a transportation corridor by the Canadian National (CN) Railway, Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16), Trans Mountain and other utilities. The Jasper National Park Management Plan (Parks Canada 2000) and Mount Robson Provincial Park Master Plan (BC Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks 1992) both recognize the importance of Yellowhead Pass as a national transportation corridor.
Early in the route selection process, Trans Mountain considered locating Anchor Loop elsewhere in Jasper National Park and in Mount Robson Provincial Park, and even north or south of the parks. However, these routing options were not feasible in that altering the route in such a way would have negated important operational synergies of following the existing pipeline route in addition to the environmental merits. Also, routes to the north or south would have required crossing protected areas where no pipelines existed, such as Banff National Park and the Willmore Wilderness Park area. In considering the available options, it became obvious the most feasible option was to follow the existing Trans Mountain pipeline corridor. Incidentally, more than 50 potential route alternatives were identified and considered from an engineering and construction perspective.
In most places, construction along the existing route was technically feasible. In some sections, places where the team thought it would be better to find an alternate route that did not parallel the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, a strong technical, ecological or cultural argument was needed before consideration would be granted by Parks Canada and BC Ministry of Environment (BC Parks) officials. The project’s route selection process included extensive consultation with officials of Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park, as well as representatives of other federal, provincial and municipal departments and agencies, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), Aboriginal Peoples, landowners and other stakeholders.
Following the route identification and selection process, two preferred routes were selected for complete environmental and technical assessment — an existing route and a proposed route; the proposed route followed the existing route for 64 per cent of its length in Jasper National Park, and 47 per cent in Mount Robson Provincial Park.
Upon the project’s completion, Anchor Loop was contiguous with the existing Trans Mountain pipeline for 56 per cent of its length and is on or abuts other linear rights-of-way such as highways, roads, power lines and abandoned railway grades for 43 per cent of its length. The remaining one per cent of Anchor Loop represents segments that are connections from one existing right-of-way to another.
Two of the key routing factors in project planning were to avoid wetlands and to avoid or substantially reduce multiple instream crossings of major watercourses. Anchor Loop succeeded in achieving both objectives as we traversed nearly 30% less wetland area than the existing route, and reduced major watercourse crossings by 20%, including 27 fewer fish-bearing waterbodies (39 vs. 66).