Canada’s pipelines key to fueling COVID-19 recovery

CEPA boss believes Canada’s rigorous standards for oil and gas are a competitive advantage

By Deborah Jaremko
Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA). Photograph for Canadian Energy Centre

Oil and gas pipelines will be at the heart of Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the country’s future, says Chris Bloomer, CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA).

This includes transporting products to satisfy ongoing global oil and gas demand as well as capitalizing on new energy opportunities like hydrogen transportation.

Canada’s competitive advantage in global energy markets is its performance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures, he says. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, ESG includes criteria such as water use, worker safety, community investment, representation of women, Indigenous people and visible minorities.

Research by BMO Capital Markets ranks Canada number one in all ESG categories among the world’s top oil and gas reserve holders.

“[ESG] is something that we need to keep building on because it’s going to give us a competitive advantage and put us in a position to attract capital and investment, and that’s what we all need,” Bloomer says.

“We are one of the few jurisdictions in the world that can significantly grow our production and be a reliable stable, sustainable source of oil and gas for the future.”

Fueling the economy

CEPA’s newly released 2020 performance report describes the sector’s wide-ranging impacts on the Canadian economy. This includes the reliable supply of energy for electricity, heat and transport, feedstocks to make products like medical plastics, enabling key exports, supporting jobs and making purchases from supporting businesses along thousands of kilometres of pipeline corridor.

Pipelines in Canada resulted in 13,434 full-time equivalent jobs in 2019, CEPA reports. Companies also spent almost $2.9 billion with vendors along their routes, including $528 million from Indigenous businesses.

“[Pipelines] impact suppliers right across the country,” he says. “We have a linear system and we spend in a linear way.”

Helping to fuel activity is progress on major projects including the Trans Mountain Expansion, Coastal GasLink, Keystone XL, Enbridge Line 3 and the TC Energy NGTL system.

Improved safety performance

CEPA’s latest report shows that last year Canada’s oil and gas pipelines got closer to the goal of zero spills or releases.

CEPA’s members, which represent the majority of pipeline transportation in Canada, had zero incidents classified as “significant” on oil pipelines in 2019 and saw just one significant incident on a natural gas pipeline system. There were nine total incidents on Canadian oil and gas pipelines in 2019, which is down from 20 in 2018.

“Our goal is always to have zero incidents. If you look at the data, certainly last year and at the five-year record, we’re getting very, very close,” Bloomer says.

“We have to be vigilant and there’s always things that we’re going to learn, but we have to keep striving for that.”

An incident is considered “significant” if it includes serious injury or fatality, liquid release of greater than 50 barrels, unintentional ignition or fire, or pipeline rupture or break.

Bloomer credits the improvement in 2019 to the sector learning from previous incidents, its strong safety culture and the impact of new technologies. One example is in-line inspection, which is contributing to improved performance today and has even bigger promise for the future, he says.

In-line inspection builds on the success of tools known as PIGs (pipeline intervention gadget) — now known as “smart PIGs” — that deploy sensors to inspect pipelines from the inside.

“The key thing is that we want to make sure that we know what’s happening in terms of the pipeline’s integrity [and] that we are getting ahead of issues,” Bloomer says.

“The ability to handle, crunch, correlate and eventually use artificial intelligence to interpret that data is huge, and that’s going to keep going.”

Canada’s pipeline operators conducted in-line inspection runs on 38,937 kilometres of their systems in 2019, CEPA reports. They also invested $1.5 billion in maintenance and monitoring and $10.6 million in new technology to improve safety performance.