Pipelines generally run underground, transporting oil and natural gas. They deliver fuel that is used to heat homes, power businesses and fuel vehicles.
Canada’s pipeline network
There are more than 840,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada, which vary in size from 1.27 centimetres to 1.22 metres in diameter. The federal government regulates about 73,000 kilometres of that network, which includes pipelines that cross provincial borders. Pipelines that stay within a province are regulated by that province’s government...
Canada’s pipeline network
There are more than 840,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada, which vary in size from 1.27 centimetres to 1.22 metres in diameter. The federal government regulates about 73,000 kilometres of that network, which includes pipelines that cross provincial borders. Pipelines that stay within a province are regulated by that province’s government.
Pipelines generally run underground, transporting oil and natural gas. Liquid pipelines are used for transporting crude oil or natural gas liquids. Refineries convert these liquids into gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products. Natural gas pipelines are used to transport natural gas from wells to processing plants, and then to customers throughout Canada. Pipelines deliver fuel that is used to heat homes, power businesses and fuel vehicles.
Pipelines are generally considered to be a safer and more efficient way to transport oil and gas compared to other transport methods, such as ships or trucks. While oil spills and gas leaks do happen with pipelines, they are uncommon. On average each year, 99 per cent of oil transported through federally regulated pipelines is done so safely, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources Canada.
Major upcoming pipeline projects
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which is intended to transport oil from Edmonton, Alta. to Burnaby, B.C., has been a highly controversial project. The government bought out Kinder Morgan in 2018 to ensure the project is completed but the Federal Court of Appeal has overturned federal approval of the project, stalling it once more and likely postponing the completion date until after 2021. The project has received a lot of opposition from communities in British Columbia, where it is thought that it will negatively affect local wildlife because of increased oil tanker traffic, as well as pose an expensive environmental risk from possible oil spills.
Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement project — running from Hardisty, Alta. to Superior, Wis. — is currently underway. Slated to begin service in late 2019, it will replace aging pipeline, reducing the risk for oil spills, as well as growing the pipeline’s capacity to 760,000 barrels of oil per day.
The Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which would carry crude oil from Hardisty, Alta. to Steele City, Neb., has been revived by President Trump and is already seeing heated debate, particularly from Indigenous communities, as the project moves forward.
Concerns about pipelines
Those in favor of building new pipelines, or expanding and updating existing ones, point to the potential for economic growth, especially by expanding into new markets. Those against pipeline construction argue about the negative effects on the natural landscape, such as soil erosion and noise pollution, the threat of oil leaks to the environment and the need for investment into clean energy rather than more pipelines. The debate often comes down to short term economic benefits versus long-term environmental effects and climate change.
There are concerns that building more pipelines will make it difficult for Canada to reach its climate change goals, as set out in the Paris Agreement. The Trans Mountain pipeline alone is expected to add another 20 to 26 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, according to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
Pipeline projects have received little support from Indigenous groups and, in most cases, are met with protests. The main concerns from these communities have been about respecting Indigenous land claims and preserving the environment. The 2014 Supreme Court Tsilhqot’in ruling requires federal and provincial governments to consult with, and, in some circumstances acquire consent from, First Nations prior to beginning development projects in their territories.
For example, the Tsleil-Waututh, who live in and around Burrard Inlet, conducted their own independent impact assessment and found that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would pose too many risks and rejected it. Since the pipeline has been approved, they have claimed that Crown consultation was inadequate and infringes on their constitutional legal rights.
To address and mitigate these concerns, pipeline proposals go through an approval process that involves environmental assessments and consultation with the public, especially Indigenous groups. However, the process and the degree to which communities are consulted is not without its criticisms. Learn more about how a pipeline is approved or rejected here.
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