A major pipeline project that will transport crude oil from Western Canada to refineries in Eastern Canada could be headed right through Westman’s backyard.
TransCanada Corporation is currently in the process of what it calls an “open season” to obtain firm commitments from oil companies for the Energy East Pipeline that would run from Hardisty, Alta. to refineries in Quebec and Ontario.
City of Brandon officials recently sat down with TransCanada representatives to discuss the project, according to economic development officer Sandy Trudel.
“We’re hoping to capture a good chunk of that economic spinoff,” Trudel said. “It’s a great opportunity to generate some traffic in our local establishments and drum up business in Brandon and southwestern Manitoba.”
TransCanada has a track record in Westman. In 2010, the Alberta-based company completed a project that transports crude oil from Alberta to U.S. markets. The Keystone Pipeline project was worth a reported $12 billion and converted an existing 864 km of natural gas pipeline to oil, establishing a pumping station in the RM of Hamiota.
Trudel said several areas of Westman saw a boon due to the increased activity as crews moved from community to community building the pipeline.
“If you look when the Keystone project was being constructed, Brandon often acted as a central hub during that time. Many of the workers on the project stayed in Brandon or the surrounding areas and there is all of the servicing of vehicles, supplies, and all of the things that go with having a working camp.”
While the Keystone Pipeline can handle between 435,000 to 590,000 barrels of oil per day, the new project will have the capacity to transport as much as 850,000 barrels per day, according to TransCanada spokesman Philippe Cannon, greatly enhancing producer access to markets in the east.
The new line will require 3,000 km of existing pipeline and the construction of about 1,400 km of new pipeline.
Cannon said the first step, should the company secure enough interest, would be to convert the existing line from natural gas to crude oil. A process he said involves following stringent safety and engineering codes.
“TransCanada has safely and successfully converted pipelines many times in North America, the most recent example being the conversion of Line One of the Canadian Mainline for the Keystone Pipeline,” Cannon said.
In the wake of several major oil spills around the world and a local spill near Jackson Creek in the RM of Pipestone,
the existing line will undergo an extensive refurbishing process in order to ensure its reliability.
Once disconnected from the natural gas network, Cannon explained, the line will be thoroughly cleaned. High-resolution tools will be used to inspect every inch of the pipeline to detect potential weaknesses, which will be repaired.
The final step involves installing an electronic leak detection system that Cannon says allows the company “to monitor pipeline operations 24 hours a day from its Calgary control centre.” Any irregularities in flow can be detected immediately and the line can be shut down in a matter of minutes with shut-off valves that are installed every 30 km and near sensitive areas such as river crossings.
According to Cannon, the Keystone Pipeline has safely delivered more than 350 million barrels of oil.
“Our operations and leak detection systems have been proven to be extremely accurate. Our record speaks for itself.”
Public backlash over the Keystone XL pipeline has already caused considerable delays in the start of construction and Cannon said proving to people that their oil transportation system is safe and reliable is paramount to ensuring projects move forward.
“Safety is our top priority because we’ve all seen what happens when incidents occur and the enormous reputational and financial cost it has to the companies involved,” he said. “Companies like TransCanada are extremely committed to running a safe, reliable and secure energy infrastructure network.”
Last year alone, the company spent more than $800 million on pipeline integrity and preventative maintenance programs to ensure the infrastructure worked the way it was designed, Cannon said.
“The public and our shareholders expect it because it not only makes good business sense, it is just common sense that having our assets operating and delivering products that our customers require enhances our bottom line and our ability to continue to grow and maintain the industry-leading safety record that we have spent decades building.”
The Energy East Pipeline could begin construction as early as 2015 — providing the regulatory application and public consultation processes go smoothly — with a completion date potentially in late 2017.
“In determining a final route for the proposed project, we will continue to consider a number of factors including safety, constructibility, environmental sensitivities, land use compatibility, economics, vegetation, archeological and historical sites, as well as stakeholder and Aboriginal community input,” Cannon said.
The line could eliminate Canada’s reliance on higher- priced crude oil currently being imported from other markets, according to Cannon.