Oil and Natural Gas Pipelines

Pipelines are a critical part of Canada’s oil and natural gas infrastructure. Pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to move large volumes of oil and natural gas from development areas to refineries, petrochemical plants and even to our homes and businesses for use.

There are more than 840,000 kilometres (km) of pipelines cross Canada, and they are all regulated (source: Natural Resources Canada). The federal government regulates about 10% of Canada’s pipelines, or more than 73,000 km, which are primarily large transmission pipelines. The remaining pipelines are regulated provincially.

Canadian Pipeline Map

The 2020 pipeline map below shows many of the major Canadian and U.S. crude oil pipelines and refineries.

U.S. and Canadian Oil Pipeline Map. Red lines show Canadian pipelines, green lines show others.

Types of Pipelines

Canada’s pipeline system is made up of four main types of pipelines that gather, transport and deliver energy to Canadians and to export markets in the United States.

Gathering Pipelines

Gathering pipelines consist of about 250,000 km of small-diameter (4″ to 12″) pipelines that are used to move crude oil and natural gas within producing areas, from wells to oil batteries (small collection / storage facilities) or to processing facilities.

Feeder Pipelines

Feeder pipelines make up about 25,000 km of pipelines and are primarily in western Canada’s producing areas. Feeder pipelines transport crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids (NGLs) from collection points (batteries), processing facilities, and storage tanks to transmission pipelines.

Transmission Pipelines

Transmission pipelines are large-diameter pipelines that move crude oil and natural gas within provinces and across provincial or international boundaries. Canada has about 117,000 km of transmission pipelines.

Distribution Pipelines

Distribution pipelines are operated by local distribution companies to deliver natural gas to final consumers in various industries, homes and businesses. These pipelines are generally smaller in diameter. There are about 450,000 km of distribution pipelines in Canada.

Key Pipelines for Canada

Currently, three major oil pipeline projects are proposed or underway in Canada. These are nation-building infrastructure projects that create good jobs for Canadians, and will provide access to growing international markets to ensure Canada can get full value for our oil and natural gas. However, all three projects are experiencing significant delays due to legal and other challenges. The three key pipelines for Canada are Enbridge Line 3 Replacement Project, Keystone XL and the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

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Enbridge Line 3

The Enbridge Line 3 Replacement Project is a replacement of the existing 1,660 km Line 3 pipeline, which was initially constructed in the 1960s. The pipeline currently delivers oil from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. The Canadian portion of the project has been in service since December of 2019, while the proposed pipeline replacement in the U.S., has been under review for many years. The new Line 3 will comprise the newest and most advanced pipeline technology—and provide much needed incremental capacity to support Canadian crude oil production growth, and U.S. and Canadian refinery demand. Successful completion would add 370,000 barrels per day of additional oil transportation capacity to Canada’s pipeline infrastructure.

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Keystone XL pipeline

The existing Keystone pipeline system transports crude oil to refining markets in the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast. It originates at Hardisty, Alberta and extends to Steele City, Nebraska. From this point, crude oil can be transported east to terminals in Wood River and Patoka, Illinois or south to Cushing, Oklahoma and onward to Gulf Coast markets. The pipeline system’s capacity is 591,000 barrels/day. The Gulf Coast Extension pipeline and the Houston lateral together form the southern portion of the Trans Canada Keystone XL pipeline. The Keystone XL line from Canada would provide a new option to deliver Canadian oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast directly through a single system. Successful completion would add 830,000 barrels/day of new oil export capacity.

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Trans Mountain Expansion Project

The existing Trans Mountain system originates near Edmonton, Alberta and transports refined products in addition to crude oil to destinations in British Columbia, Washington and the Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C. From Burnaby, crude oil can be loaded for export to California, the U.S. Gulf Coast or overseas to Asia. The current capacity of the pipeline system is 300,000 barrels/day. Of this, 221,000 b/d is allocated to refineries with connections in B.C. and Washington State and the remaining 79,000 b/d is allocated to the Westridge terminal for marine export.

Trans Mountain Expansion Project

In 2013, Kinder Morgan applied to the NEB for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP), proposed to expand existing pipeline capacity to 890,000 barrels/day from 300,000 b/d. By the end of 2016 the project received approval from the B.C. provincial government, the National Energy Board, and the Government of Canada. Construction was planned to start in 2017.

Amid interference from government and opposition from environmental activists, some Indigenous groups, and members of the public, delays caused Kinder Morgan to halt all non-critical project spending in April 2018. On May 29, 2018, the Government of Canada announced an agreement to purchase the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, along with the expansion pipeline project. This proposal was ratified by Kinder Morgan shareholders in August 2018. The Canadian government is not intending to be a long-term owner but has acted to ensure that the project will be built in the face of continued political uncertainty.

TMEP is critical infrastructure needed to move Canadian energy to world markets and help restore investor confidence in Canada’s economy and political system. When completed, the Trans Mountain Expansion Project will add 590,000 barrels per day of pipeline capacity for oil and refined products, for domestic and international markets.

Constructing and operating the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is in the national interest. CAPP supports the federal government’s commitment to TMEP and notes that as of September 2019, Trans Mountain Corporation, which operates the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and is responsible for building the TMEP, was mobilizing construction contractors and equipment, and shipping pipe to staging areas in Alberta and B.C. in preparation for the start of construction. (Source: CAPP, 2019)

Pipeline Construction

The pipeline construction process is divided into three phases: pre-construction, construction and post-construction – it’s a highly coordinated, well-planned operation by a large team of experienced professionals.

From planning, through construction to operation, it takes years to build a pipeline. There are many surveys and studies and plans to be completed to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses the societal, developmental, environmental and safety considerations necessary to build the pipeline.

Pipelines are a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible way to move oil and natural gas. Nearly all – more than 99% – of the oil and natural gas products transported through transmission pipelines reach their markets safely. (Source: Canadian Energy Pipelines Association 2017).

The Industry adheres to all regulations and follows best management practices to ensure safe transport of energy. Pipeline operators must design safety, emergency, security, integrity management and environmental protection programs, which are reviewed and audited by the Canadian Energy Regulator (formerly the National Energy Board) as a means to anticipate, prevent and mitigate any potentially dangerous conditions. Operators also use sophisticated, computerized monitoring and control systems 24/7 to provide continuous, real-time information and conduct routine inspections and aerial patrols of the pipelines.

These practices lead to ongoing improvements to pipeline safety. In Alberta, where the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) manages provincial pipelines, performance is continuously improving. AER data indicates that over the past decade, the number of pipeline incidents declined by 32% while the length of pipelines grew by 13%.

Today, Canada has limited pipeline infrastructure to move oil and natural gas. The need for new pipelines and pipeline expansions are required to provide access to new markets and to serve existing markets more efficiently.

Canada needs more pipelines in all directions to move our growing oil and natural gas supply to more customers. A number of pipeline projects are proposed to continue supporting U.S. markets, plus growing markets in India and China, including the Trans Mountain Expansion project and the Coastal GasLInk pipeline that will move natural gas from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada facility on the West Coast.