Northern Courier’s remarkable construction wins society Project of the Year
Now more than ever, the way pipelines are built around rivers, lakes and other important water bodies is something people care a lot about. So keeping northern Alberta’s biggest and longest river safe with challenges such as steep banks, sensitive ecology, and a harsh climate was of utmost importance to the engineers working on TransCanada’s Northern Courier Pipeline Project.
The team had to think creatively and put the latest technology and pipeline construction innovations to work on the 90-kilometre (55-mile) project in the northeast corner of the province.
Challenging sections to overcome
The pipeline project has some particularly challenging sections along its route, including eight major crossings under large water bodies and busy roads. In order to complete these crossings safely and with minimal impact to the environment, additional planning and thought was required to determine the best approach. While the team didn’t set out to break any records, their work has received international recognition for their use of “trenchless” crossing techniques that allow pipe to be installed underground with minimal impact to surface resources.
“A horizontal directional drill (HDD) provides the benefit of being able to go underground without disturbing sensitive areas,” says Tim Smith, pipeline project manager for the Northern Courier Pipeline Project. “In this particular case the Athabasca River is a protected area environmentally and by doing an HDD we were able to stay out of that protected area and minimize our impact on the environment.”
Longest 42-inch-wide HDD completed in North America
The HDD the project completed under the Athabasca River turned out to be the longest 42-inch-wide HDD completed in North America to date at 2,195 metres (7,200 feet), in order to install the pipeline 70 metres below the riverbed. HDD is a technique that TransCanada frequently uses for major water crossings because it avoids in-stream work during construction and places the pipe below the riverbed.
Along with our contractors Michels and CCI Inc., the Northern Courier team’s Athabasca River crossing was awarded Project of the Year by the North American Society for Trenchless Technology (Northwest Chapter), a society dedicated to promoting the benefits of trenchless technology for public awareness through education, training and research.
“This is a high honour in the world of trenchless crossing technology,” Smith said. “It means a lot to those of us who work day in and day out to install pipelines in a way that minimizes the environmental impact while delivering the energy products our society needs.”
Crossing techniques of the future
The Northern Courier team also involved another “first” for TransCanada, when the team decided to use a “Direct Pipe” crossing methodology to install a 42-inch pipe underneath Highway 63, which connects Alberta’s oilsands to Fort McMurray.
“Our engineering contractor CCI recommended the use of Michels Canada’s Direct Pipe crossing technology instead of a typical HDD after reviewing the soil and geotechnical data in the area. This was a recommendation that we supported as using this new technology was the most optimal way to install this particular crossing,” Smith said.
Direct Pipe is a relatively new technique that utilizes a drill head slightly larger than the pipe diameter to create a tunnel. The drill head scrapes through rock, clay and sand and moves the waste material through a series of internal pipes to a container where it can be hauled away. The carrier pipe string is pushed into the drill tunnel simultaneously as it digs.
“This is the first time we have used Direct Pipe at TransCanada to complete a pipe crossing, but it definitely will not be the last,” says Charlie Edwards construction manager for the Northern Courier Pipeline Project.