Now, more than ever, the way pipelines are built around rivers, lakes and other important water bodies is something people care a lot about. So keeping northern Alberta’s biggest and longest river safe with challenges, such as steep banks, sensitive ecology and a harsh climate, was of utmost importance to the engineers working on TransCanada’s recently completed Northern Courier Pipeline Project.
The team had to think creatively and put the latest technology and pipeline construction innovations to work on the 90-kilometre (56-mile) project, which officially received product and began operations in late January 2018.
“The Athabasca River is a protected area and by doing an HDD we were able to stay out of that protected area,” said Tim Smith, pipeline project manager, Northern Courier Pipeline Project.
The pipeline project had some particularly challenging sections along its route, including eight major crossings under large water bodies and busy roads. In order to complete these crossings safely and with minimal impact to the environment, additional planning and thought was required to determine the best approach.
While the team didn’t set out to break any records, their work received international recognition for their use of “trenchless” crossing techniques that allow pipe to be installed underground with minimal impact to surface resources.
“A horizontal directional drill (HDD) provides the benefit of being able to go underground without disturbing sensitive areas,” says Smith. “In this particular case the Athabasca River is a protected area, environmentally, and by doing an HDD we were able to stay out of that protected area and minimize our impact on the environment.”
The HDD the project completed under the Athabasca River turned out to be the longest 42-inch-wide HDD completed in North America to date at 2,195 metres (7,200 feet), in order to install the pipeline 70 metres below the riverbed. HDD is a technique that TransCanada frequently uses for major water crossings because it avoids in-stream work during construction and places the pipe below the riverbed.
Along with our contractors Michels and CCI Inc., the Northern Courier team’s Athabasca River crossing was awarded the 2016 Project of the Year by the North American Society for Trenchless Technology (Northwest Chapter), a society dedicated to promoting the benefits of trenchless technology for public awareness through education, training and research.
“This was a high honour in the world of trenchless crossing technology,” Smith said. “It meant a lot to those of us who work day in and day out to install pipelines in a way that minimizes the environmental impact while delivering the energy products our society needs.”