In a typical assembly line, a product is built by moving through a number of stations where operators perform a specific task, often with the aid of specialized machinery or robotics.
In pipeline construction, while the technology is just as sophisticated and purpose-built, it’s the opposite—the product remains in place while a procession of workers, heavy equipment and trucks pass by, like a small army on the march.
“I’ve never been that up close and personal to pipeline construction before and I thought it was really interesting,” says Angela Large, Mayor of the Village of Czar, Alberta, who participated in a tour of the Line 3 Replacement Program near her community in October.
“Seeing all the pipe layers in a row, grabbing the pipe and laying it down in the trench—so much equipment doing so much at the same time—was really neat.”
By the time the pipe is ready to be lowered into the trench, several pieces of equipment, heavy-duty ropes, cables and hundreds of hands have touched its surface—stockpiling and transporting to the right-of-way, stringing and bending to precise engineering specifications, trenching, welding both inside and out, sandblasting and coating, buffing, beveling and tie-in, testing and inspecting every step of the way.
“What’s amazing to me is not only the technology, but the amount of labor that’s still involved to apply the technology,” says Allan Murray, Reeve of the Municipal District of Provost, who also took part in an L3RP right-of-way tour in east-central Alberta.
“I’m impressed by the amount of people involved, and what was obvious to me is just how much work and preparation a project like this entails. It didn’t just start a week before they came out here,” adds Murray. “There’s a lot of legwork involved. The steel has to be purchased, the right-of-way has to be acquired, the equipment has to be lined up and ready to go. Nothing is left to chance.”
The care and exacting nature of pipeline construction is evident in every step taken, says Joel McKim, a Senior Construction Specialist in Enbridge’s Major Projects unit. McKim, along with Enbridge construction managers in other active areas of Line 3, has hosted several pipeline construction tours for local dignitaries and Indigenous leaders.
“The tours are a great opportunity to showcase what we do and the pride we take in a job well done,” he says. “The detailed nature of the work is a real eye-opener for those who haven’t witnessed it firsthand.”
As construction progresses through these steps, a running record of technical data is scrawled on each pipe segment.
“Every piece of pipe tells its own story,” says Ernest Penner, a welding inspector working on the Line 3 project for Enbridge. “Everything is documented. So years from now, if we ever need to dig that section up, we can find it to the inch.”
Pipeline construction has evolved considerably since the late 1960s, when Line 3 was originally installed, says McKim.
“We’re applying modern, best-practice construction methods to replace an aging, tape-coated pipeline with new, high-quality steel and modern materials,” he says. “Everything we do is driven by our top priorities of safety and environmental protection.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about safety.”