BY KEN JOHNSON, P.ENG.
The race for northern gas has turned a new corner with a
January 2004 announcement by MidAmerican Energy. The company
plans to complete by 2010 a gas pipeline from the North
Slope of Alaska to the border of the Yukon Territory, along
the Alaska Highway.
The competition between the Alaska Highway gas pipeline and
the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline is not new. It’s
a minor drama that has taken a number of twists and turns
over the past 20 years.
The recent announcement by the Alaskans is a new chapter,
however, because the construction of the Mackenzie Valley
gas pipeline is also scheduled for completion by the end
of the decade.
Many pipeline proponents do not express any concern with
two pipelines ultimately providing northern gas, because
future demands for natural gas across North America will
ultimately provide a market for the product. However, concerns
arise on the construction scheduling of the pipelines, and
the associated technical demands for construction resources
(man and machine) and pipeline materials.
It is generally agreed, in fact, that the construction of
the two pipelines cannot proceed concurrently.
There is also speculation that the flood of new northern
gas on the market from the “first” pipeline will
create a price slump, and change the economics, and ultimately
the schedule for the “second” pipeline. Speculation,
however, is for Wall Street, and it’s somewhat removed
from the engineering and construction realities of northern
The Materials Crunch
The pipe needed for the both northern pipelines is a unique
product with 25 mm (one inch) wall thickness, and the X80
pipe grading, which can withstand extreme cold conditions.
X80 pipe has a yield strength of between 80,000 psi (552
Mpa) and 100,000 psi (690 Mpa), and a tensile strength between
90,000 psi (621 Mpa) and 120,000 psi (827 Mpa). The assembly
of the pipe will require the use of a submerged arc weld.
The pipe itself would probably be delivered over a two-year
program with the pipe manufacturing tender going to one steel
mill, and deliveries coming in stages. Although the large
diameter and thick-walled pipe is a specialty item, several
mills around the world are capable of producing quantities
on the scale required.
An estimated 4.5 million tonnes of pipe will be needed
for the Alaska highway pipeline, and the cost of pipe
is estimated to constitute upwards of 25 to 35 per cent
of the cost of the pipeline.
Construction seasons for the Mackenzie Valley pipeline are
planned for the first four months of 2008 and 2009, with
pre-construction activities taking place in 2006 and 2007.
Pre-construction and construction activities are expected
to begin in 2006. Development drilling within the natural
gas fields is planned to start in 2007 and continue until
Construction will include:
• The three natural gas fields in the Mackenzie Delta
(Taglu, Parsons Lake and Niglintgak)
The gathering system from the gas fields, and main pipeline
The compressor stations and natural gas liquids facilities
Construction support facilities, such as construction camps,
barge landing sites, airstrips, temporary and permanent roads,
borrow sites, and stockpile sites.
Temporary, self-contained work camps will be set up and operated
during construction. Each of the three natural gas fields
will have a camp to support drilling and facility construction
operations. Camps will also be set up along the pipeline
route, at compressor station sites, and at the natural gas
liquids facility near Inuvik.
The proposed Mackenzie natural gas pipeline faces the regulatory
hurdles of 16 separate environmental agencies, and between
400 and 500 individual permits from regulatory organizations.
The 1,300-kilometre pipeline travels through Inuvialuit,
Gwich'in, Sahtu and Deh Cho lands – all with land and
water boards that have to approve the project.
The fate of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline may hang in the
balance after a fresh demand from the Deh Cho First Nation,
located in the southern Northwest Territories. Deh Cho leadership
has notified the federal government of its desire for two
seats on the seven-member panel to preside over pipeline
If it doesn’t get what it wants, Deh Cho First Nation’s
next step could be a court injunction, bringing pipeline
development to a halt.
This race for northern gas will be front and centre at the
upcoming Cold Regions Engineering and Construction Conference
and Expo in Edmonton this May. Over 300 delegates, 120 technical
presentations, and 40 exhibitors are expected at the three-day
event, starting on May 16.
This conference is returning to Edmonton for the first time
in 10 years.
Ken Johnson, M.A.Sc., MCIP, P.Eng., is a senior planner
and engineer with Earth Tech Canada in Edmonton. He has been
working in the north for almost 20 years, and he is a nationally
recognized expert on northern community infrastructure. Mr.
Johnson has been a contributing writer to The PEGG for 10
years, and maintains an award-winning website on cold region
technology, called CRYOFRONT.
For More Information
Cold Regions Engineering and Construction Conference &
||Alaska Highway Pipeline
|| Mackenzie Valley
||1,200 mm (48 in)
||7,50 mm (30 in)
||4.5 billion cubic feet per day
|Major Compressor Stations
|Minor Compressor Stations
|Type of Pipe Steel