In an effort to diversify their exportation of oil sands production to Asian markets, Canada’s government approved the construction of 731 miles of new pipeline. The Northern Gateway project would have the capacity to transport 525,000 barrels of crude oil sands a day to Asia-bound tankers.
The pipeline has wide support from the oil companies because it would allow for the unrefined oil to be transported much more safely and cost efficiently than shipping it by rail. The government is also enticed by the economic benefit that project would create.
Additionally, the project would create 3,000 new construction jobs to build the pipeline. Approval for the pipeline was given conditionally, with over 200 terms the pipeline’s owner, Enbridge, need to comply with before moving ahead with the project.
Construction is not expected to start before 2017.
Many would rather see it not start at all. The Northern Gateway project faces heavy opposition from environmental groups and scientists who believe the pipeline will do irreparable damage to ecosystems and the environment.
The pipeline would also cut through territory that is populated by First Nations groups which have never signed treaties with the government.
These complications make moving forward with the project a delicate exercise.
Some see this as a move by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to try and motivate United States President Barack Obama to finally make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project that would go through parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska before connecting to existing pipelines.
The proposed project would carry the same crude oil, mostly bitumen, down from Canada to oil refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. It would also transport some domestically produced crude oil from South Dakota as well.
The necessary pipeline would require 875 miles of new 36-inch-diameter pipeline and related facilities. The project would create thousands of temporary construction jobs to take care of the surveying, clearing, grading and trenching involved in laying the pipeline, as well as the numerous ancillary facilities that would be required to operate the pipeline.
The approval of the Northern Gateway project has already caught attention in the United States.
In response to the news about the Northern Gateway project, one U.S. senate subcommittee passed a vote 12-10 to approve the Keystone pipeline, but it remains unlikely that Senate majority leader Harry Reid will bring the bill to the floor for a full vote.
Because both projects face such staunch and vocal opposition, it remains to be seen whether any actual action will result from the announcement. The potential implications on the energy sector and the accompanying construction projects that would be required to complete them could be significant.
If any trenching does take place, we’ll have some Alpine Cutterheads ready for service.