Here’s a new idea for a western Canada pipeline and energy corridor

An integrated energy corridor could be created between Fort McMurray and Prince Rupert that would fuel the oilsands and LNG plants using hydroelectric power, while exporting natural gas, natural gas liquids and bitumen and reducing GHG emissions. Image: Mike Priaro, Google Maps

An efficient, integrated western energy corridor from the oilsands near Fort McMurray, through the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River and on to marine terminals near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, makes a great deal of sense from business, economic, environmental, and First Nations perspectives.

An integrated energy corridor could transmit clean hydroelectric power west to power proposed natural gas liquefaction plants near Prince Rupert and east to power oilsands facilities.

The Prince Rupert area is sheltered and ice-free year-round with deep natural harbours and is regarded as the safest location for oil and LNG marine terminals on Canada’s west coast. With no significant hazards, such as narrow channels to navigate, there is unobstructed entry to the high seas and to the northern Pacific Great Circle shipping route, which provides the shortest trade route between North America and markets in the Asia-Pacific region.

Clean hydroelectric power for the oilsands

Electric power transmission lines installed in the same pipeline right-of-way (ROW) could supply clean hydroelectric power to displace some of the 3.2 bcf/d of natural gas used in the oilsands, and reduce excess greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Hydropower would have to compete with low-cost natural gas used to provide steam and co-generated electric power in oilsands operations. However, natural gas displaced by hydroelectric power could be shipped to Prince Rupert and exported as LNG instead of burned to produce bitumen, thereby reducing GHG emissions and adding value to natural gas.

Hydroelectric power from Site C will add 1,100 megawatts (MW) of capacity to hydropower projects on the Peace River, which currently total 3,424 MW. In Alberta, ATCO says the Peace River could generate 1,500 MW of hydropower, the Slave River could provide 1,800 MW and the Athabasca River near Fort McMurray could provide a further 1,500 MW.

Potential LPG/condensate pipeline

AltaGas recently applied for a licence to export 14.6 million bbls per year of propane from a Prince Rupert marine terminal using railway border crossings in Alberta and British Columbia, for a term of 25 years.

A volume of 14.6 million bbls/year (40,000 bbls/day) approaches the economic threshold for a pipeline when volumes of LPG and NGLs are added—as well as condensate if producers succeed in eliminating the use of diluent to export raw bitumen as dilbit.

Such a pipeline would be inexpensive if installed in the same ROW and at the same time as new natural gas and crude oil pipelines.

An integrated western Canada energy/transportation corridor

Canadians should embrace an even bigger vision and expand the concept of an energy corridor to include fibre-optic cables, connections between electric power transmission lines and other hydroelectric and clean energy sources, light service industries, and upgraded highways and railways providing transportation and access to forestry, mining and recreation to create an integrated western Canada energy/transportation corridor.

Such a corridor would dramatically reduce construction costs and minimize the environmental footprint when compared to the clearing and construction of multiple ROWs through the rugged mountain ranges of British Columbia.

It would allow for the use of hydro to power LNG plants, and displace natural gas to reduce GHG emissions from the oilsands.

There would be significant economic benefit to British Columbia from hydroelectric power revenue and from provision of adequate power for increased development in northern British Columbia and Alberta. Natural gas pipelines to LNG plants and a marine terminal near Prince Rupert would also encourage development of shale gas resources in northern British Columbia and Alberta.

There would be significant benefit to First Nations through involvement designing, constructing, operating, and managing the corridor and associated pipelines and facilities, monitoring environmental effects, and participating in emergency response plans, with assistance of the energy industry and government. There must be direct, long-term economic benefit to First Nations from encroachments on First Nations lands.

An integrated energy/transportation corridor to west coast tidewater requires leadership and support from the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal ministers of transport, natural resources and environment. It also requires support from the governments of premiers Clark and Notley of British Columbia and Alberta, First Nations, affected local municipalities, BC Hydro, and private industry.

Mike Priaro, B.Eng.Sc. (Chem. Eng.), P.Eng. is an independent consultant who worked in Alberta's oil patch for 25 years.​ He increased oil production from the historic Turner Valley oilfield and brought in underbalanced drilling and completion technology to drill out, complete and test several of the highest producing gas wells ever on mainland Canada at Ladyfern, B.C. In addition to several published articles, he developed the course material for the Advanced Petroleum Engineering course at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. 

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