Updated June 2021
Pipelines are recognized as one of the safest and most efficient and reliable ways to move energy-related products over long distances. Alberta's total length of pipelines is 437 135 kilometres and continues to grow, averaging a one per cent increase per year over the last four years.
As of 2020, roughly 35 per cent of AER-regulated pipelines had a status as being either discontinued or abandoned, an increase of about 28 per cent over the last four years. Factors that may account for this increase are companies
- proactively replacing older lines with new pipelines to ensure pipeline integrity,
- discontinuing and abandoning pipelines due to unfavourable economics, and
- placing increased emphasis on meeting end-of-life obligations.
The AER's programs to manage pipeline liability and its focus on inspections of inactive pipelines are other potential contributing factors.
Pipelines transport various liquids and gases. In 2020,
- 57 per cent of Alberta's total pipeline inventory carried natural gas,
- 16 per cent carried oil-well effluent,
- 5 per cent carried sour natural gas (natural gas with hydrogen sulphide concentrations greater than 1 per cent),
- 5 per cent carried fuel gas,
- 5 per cent carried produced water,
- 5 per cent carried crude oil, and
- 7 per cent carried other substances, such as fresh water and sales-grade petroleum products.
Pipelines can also be made from a variety of materials. About 86 per cent of Alberta's pipelines are made of steel. Almost all of the rest are made of polymer or fibre-composite materials that are less susceptible to corrosion.
Most pipelines are small, with a nominal pipe size of 6 inches or less. Such pipelines carry production from individual wells to nearby processing facilities. Large pipelines, those with a nominal pipe size of 12 inches or greater, make up just 7 per cent of all AER-regulated inventory.
Types of Operators
Most pipelines in Alberta are operated by companies that discover and produce oil and natural gas.
In 2020, the AER regulated 960 companies with pipelines. Eighty-one companies are responsible for over 80 per cent of Alberta's pipeline infrastructure, while the vast majority of companies (71 per cent) operate pipelines less than 100 kilometres in length.