The Race for Northern Gas

PEGG Contributor

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 pipeline mega-projects.

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 itself 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 2009.

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 system
• 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.

Other Demands

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 environmental hearings.

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 on the
Cold Regions Engineering and Construction Conference & Expo

Contenders Compared
  Alaska Highway Pipeline Mackenzie Valley Pipeline
Cost ($Can) $15 billion $4 billion
Total Distance 2,800 km 1,300 km
Diameter 1,200 mm (48 in) 7,50 mm (30 in)
Construction Seasons 4 years 2 winters
Estimated Labour 60,000 person-years 20,000 person-years
Capacity 4.5 billion cubic feet per day 1.2 bcfd
Pipeline Sections 12 11
Major Compressor Stations 12 3
Minor Compressor Stations 26 8
Operating Pressure 2,050 psi 2,050 psi
Type of Pipe Steel X80 X80

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