The Trans Mountain Expansion Project will reflect our experience with safe pipeline operations and includes technology advancements exceeding regulatory requirements for Canadian transmission pipeline operations. We recently spoke with our engineering teams for technical services and construction to learn more about the safety measures and technologies Trans Mountain uses protect the public, workers and the environment on its existing pipeline as well as the enhancements planned for the expansion.

Trans Mountain monitors its current pipeline operations with two continuously operating systems. What are they and how do they work?

We have two systems to monitor pipeline operations. SCADA, or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System, monitors the rate of flow in the pipeline as well as pressure, temperature and density of product.

We also have a Leak Detection System that can detect fluctuations in SCADA and immediately alert a Control Centre Operator in Edmonton. The operators can shut down lines and dispatch crews any time of day or night.

You also take preventive measures that proactively reduce spill risk? What are those?

We have a proactive and comprehensive pipeline safety program to ensure the pipeline is safe and reliable — and that the public, workers and the environment are protected.

In addition to full-time monitoring, we have an integrity management program to identify potential hazards to pipeline safety This includes use of in-line inspection tools, or smart pigs, that run through the pipeline in order to detect defects. If a defect is detected, the affected location is dug up, assessed, repaired and occasionally replaced. The section of pipeline is then recoated with a corrosion resistant external coating, then backfilled. Other programs include natural hazard management, corrosion protection, damage prevention and public awareness.

What enhancements will you make to leak detection as part of the Expansion?

We will make technology advancements and improvements. For example, we will implement a second leak detection system that will operate in parallel with the existing system. This will encompass the existing pipeline and the expansion and it will exceed current Canadian regulations, which require only a single system. This will maximize our capability for detecting leaks.

How will TMEP minimize the consequences in the unlikely event of a spill?

Trans Mountain has comprehensive emergency procedures Control Centre Operators must follow. Every employee has the authority to order a pipeline shut down for safety reasons and there’s a detailed protocol for restarting the pipeline after this happens.

We have check valves and block valves at strategic locations along the entire pipeline to limit the consequence of a release of oil. Check valves automatically shut if pressure on the downstream side of the line is higher than pressure on the upstream side — in other words, if oil begins moving in the wrong direction.

Automated block valves can be remotely operated from our Control Centre. If a spill is suspected or confirmed, block valves on both sides of the location are closed to restrict any flow of oil into the suspect section of the pipeline.

We’re taking a number of steps to further reduce risk as part of the Project. One of the conditions for our Project is a multi-year plan for the pipeline currently in service to automate existing manual valves, install new automated block valves and install new check valves.

When selecting locations for our mainline block valves we consider  factors such as topography, major watercourses and lakes, urban areas, First Nation Reserves and parks.

How have the public or other stakeholders been involved in decisions about spill prevention and protection of the environment?

We’ve optimized the Project as a result of stakeholder feedback and concerns.

Here are some examples:

  • We will increase the number of isolation (block) valves from 94 to 126. This will significantly reduce the volume of any potential spill.
  • Depth of cover will be increased above the new pipeline in areas with higher risk of third party damage such as urban areas and at crossings of highways and railways
  • Thicker-walled pipeline in high consequence areas such as urban locations and river crossings
  • Pipeline routing changed to avoid 22 river crossings at significant fish-bearing rivers such as the Fraser River and the upper North Thompson, Albreda, Coldwater and Coquihalla rivers
  • Avoiding environmentally sensitive areas such as Cheam Wetlands and three BC Class A Parks by changing Project routing
  • Routing the pipeline to minimize community impacts in the Westsyde neighbourhood in Kamloops and planning a tunnel route through Burnaby Mountain to avoid adjacent neighbourhoods