Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Pipeline construction is an impressive thing to behold. The right-of-way – at some 35 metres wide, it’s broader than many country roads – is striking, as is the vast amount of equipment arrayed along its length. (Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)
Pipeline construction is an impressive thing to behold. The right-of-way – at some 35 metres wide, it’s broader than many country roads – is striking, as is the vast amount of equipment arrayed along its length. (Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)

Keystone XL: The Journey of a Pipeline

A Keystone builder’s view: ‘We take great pride in our work’ Add to ...

The final check is done with a “jeep,” a circular slinky-like device that wraps around the pipe and is slowly walked along its length. Every time the jeep detects a problem, the entire crew lowering the pipe into the ground – dozens of people with many pieces of equipment – stops. The problem area, which could be pinhole-sized, is sanded, re-coated and then bonded into place with a heat gun.

Then the pipe itself is gently lowered. It does not sit on the ground: Rather, it sits on foam pillows installed to give it a safe resting place.

Mr. Steward is a third-generation pipeliner; his father was chief inspector on a team that broke the world record for most consecutive welds in one day – around 200 – on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

“I wish they would understand the process we do to protect water bodies,” he says. “And our installation – we take great pride in our work.”

He’s also eager to point out the good they do for those they encounter. Local shops put up signs beckoning pipeliners, eager for the business they bring. They try to do good for those along the route, too. In December, they mounted a large gift program.

“We had a toy drive and bought toys for Christmas – over 900 or 1,000 of us,” Mr. Steward says.

Put it all together, he says, and the pipeline crews digging up pastures and running heavy equipment through backyards often have surprisingly good relations with those they encounter.

“Very very rarely do we ever see where [landowners] weren’t happy with the people that come through,” he says. benevolent “The co-operation and the respect that we give to the landowners – they see it.”

===================

AN UNDER-THE-RADAR PIPELINE

Vern Yu doesn’t want to say it. It would be unprofessional, or indecorous, or just contrary to what Enbridge Inc. executives are supposed to say about their arch-rival.

But it only takes a quick glance at a map to figure out that Enbridge is quietly assembling pipeline puzzle pieces that, when they are hooked together from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, look an awful lot like another project – one that has been anything but quiet. In fact, you could be forgiven for asking if TransCanada’s Keystone XL is even needed, given what Enbridge is planning.

“I don’t want to be on record saying that Keystone XL is not necessary,” says Mr. Yu, Enbridge’s vice-president of business development and market development.

Why not?

In part, it’s because many of the oil companies and refineries that use Enbridge have also signed up for Keystone XL. In part, it’s because many believe enough oil sands crude is coming that both options will be needed. But perhaps most importantly, pipeline companies have grown leery of wishing ill on their rivals, because if protesters succeed in undermining TransCanada’s plans, chances are they will do the same for Enbridge.

Still, it’s clear Enbridge is chasing the same business that has landed TransCanada’s Keystone XL project in all sorts of trouble – and it likes the fact it hasn’t gotten much attention.

“Obviously we know we’re just as big a player as they are. We just like to stay out of the limelight a little bit,” Mr. Yu says.

Enbridge’s ambitions don’t look like much for now: an empty patch of grass in the heart of its huge south terminal at Cushing, the bucolic Oklahoma town that calls itself the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” The grass is in the middle of a giant network of Enbridge oil storage, with roughly 90 large oil tanks that play an important role in setting the price of oil in North America.

Mike Jenkins, an Enbridge operator, points out the spot.

“This area right here is where Flanagan South is going to be,” he says. There’s no “if” in his statement for a reason: Pre-construction work is already under way, and construction is expected to begin before July. It’s expected to be complete by mid-2014. Other parts of the plan will be done before then. Keystone XL, meanwhile, is still waiting for approval.

Single page

Follow on Twitter: @nvanderklippe

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories