The National Energy Board (NEB) is gearing up to hold a public hearing to consider the largest facility abandonment application in its history.
Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL) has applied to abandon a 266-kilometre section of its Peace River Mainline in northwest Alberta at an estimated cost of $22.5 million.
This includes a request to “abandon in place” about 257 kilometres of the natural gas pipeline.
NGTL says that abandoning a pipeline in place in cultivated areas is the safest and most effective means of avoiding or reducing environmental impacts, in addition to being the most cost effective.
Abandoning the majority of the pipeline in place would have less of a disturbance on farming activities than removing it, the company says, and would not require the use of heavy machinery or an increase of construction traffic on local roads.
The remaining nine kilometres of pipeline, located on Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation reserve land, would be removed.
The decision to remove the pipe from the reserve was based on a number of factors including obligations established by the government of Canada in the federal permit issued for the right of way on the reserve, engagement with First Nation, and consideration of the unique status of reserve land.
The company also has proposed to remove all above ground pipeline facilities associated with the project.
Customers would continue to receive service through interconnections to other pipelines on the Alberta system.
NGTL predecessor, the Alberta Gas Trunk Line Company, purchased the line from Peace River Oil Pipe Line Co. in 1971.Originally constructed in 1968 to transport crude oil, AGTL converted the pipeline to transport natural gas with service beginning in 1972.
The 266-kilometre loop that is subject to the NEB application has experienced nine leaks and four ruptures since it was placed into service, primarily due to external corrosion, says the company.
There were five such incidents in the 1970s, two in the 1990s and six in the early 2000s. Several investigative and repair or replacement digs were completed to manage the integrity of the pipeline.
NGTL says it determined in 2009 that this section was not necessary to meet customers’ future natural gas requirements and could be decommissioned.
To prepare for this process, and to maintain natural gas transportation service to customers, NGTL received NEB approval to construct and operate approximately seven kilometres of natural gas pipeline in two segments, as well as interconnection facilities, which were placed into service in March 2011.
Although the company had proposed to decommission the pipeline section, the NEB determined the activities were more appropriately characterized as abandonment.
Abandonment activities encompass everything from the physical work of abandoning the pipeline and associated facilities to subsequent remediation and reclamation where required.
NGTL said that since withdrawing its decommissioning application in February 2013, it has considered options for the pipeline loop, including a sale of the assets, but no viable alternatives to abandonment have been identified.