Every day in Alberta, a complex network of pipelines operates right under our feet, moving oil and gas to markets at home and beyond. In fact, oil and gas pipelines stretch more than 440 000 kilometres across the province. It’s our job to regulate these pipelines and ensure that they’re safe.
Which pipelines are we responsible for?
The AER regulates oil and gas pipelines solely within the borders of Alberta. Most pipelines that we’re responsible for are smaller lines that connect individual wells to processing facilities, which then connect to larger-diameter lines. Utility pipelines in Alberta are regulated by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC). Oil and gas pipelines that cross provincial or international borders are regulated by the Canadian Energy Regulator. We manage incidents and inspections for gas utility pipelines on behalf of the AUC under a memorandum of understanding between the AUC and AER. The Canada Energy Regulator (CER) regulates oil and gas pipelines that cross provincial or international borders. For more information, see Pipelines in Alberta: what landowners need to know.
Types of Pipelines
Pipelines transport various liquids and gases. In 2021,
- 57 per cent of Alberta's total pipeline inventory carried natural gas,
- 16 per cent carried oil well effluent,
- 5 per cent carried sour natural gas (natural gas with hydrogen sulphide concentrations greater than 1 per cent),
- 5 per cent carried fuel gas (natural gas used to run equipment),
- 5 per cent carried salt water,
- 5 per cent carried crude oil, and
- 7 per cent carried other substances, such as fresh water and and sales-grade petroleum products.
How We Regulate Pipelines
Our work starts before a pipeline is built and continues after it’s no longer in use. From the time an application is submitted for a pipeline through to the pipeline’s construction, operation, and closure, our requirements help ensure that it is designed, operated, and decommissioned safely and that the land is returned to its natural state.
Rules and Requirements
Each company must comply with the rules, regulations, and requirements listed below throughout the life of each pipeline they own:
- Pipeline Act
- Pipeline Rules
- Directive 077: Pipelines – Requirements and Reference Tools
- Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Z662-19: Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems.
Companies must also identify, manage, monitor, and address any potential hazards associated with each pipeline. We require companies to develop comprehensive integrity management programs and safety and loss management systems to manage potential risks.
Over the years, Alberta’s pipeline requirements have been examined against those of other regulators around the world to ensure that we follow best practices. Find out how we’ve improved our requirements to reduce pipeline incidents.
How We Inspect Pipelines
We inspect pipeline operations regularly to ensure that companies are meeting our requirements and are monitoring for potential risks. Our inspections consider the risks of individual pipelines and look at things such as pipeline material, substance, geographical location, failure history, and the company’s compliance history.
We apply greater scrutiny to pipelines with greater risks, such as those that transport oil effluent, salt water, or sour gas; are located near water bodies, or belong to a company with a poor compliance history.
Compliance and Enforcement
If we find that a company is not in compliance with our requirements, or if there is a risk to the public or the environment, we can immediately suspend the pipeline until the problems are resolved. Other compliance and enforcement tools that we might use include warning letters, administrative penalties, orders, and prosecution.
We share our compliance and enforcement decisions on our Compliance Dashboard.
When an Incident or Emergency Occurs
All AER regulated pipeline incidents in Alberta must be reported to us , including when a pipeline is hit but does not leak. Pipeline incidents can be caused by
- corrosion due to poor maintenance or construction practices,
- equipment failure,
- material and welding defects,
- natural events such as ground movement or flooding, or
- human interference (e.g., a pipeline hit by heavy equipment during a ground disturbance or damage from vandalism).
Roles and Responsibilities
Companies are responsible for all aspects of incident response—from having a detailed emergency response plan to guide incident response through to remediating and reclaiming a site after an incident. We assist the company in its response, and our staff are on hand to respond to energy-related incidents 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Every year, we publish a Pipeline Performance Report that highlights companies that are performing well, as well as those that need to make improvements. We work with companies to improve their performance and prevent future incidents, whether conducting inspections and audits more often, educating them on pipeline integrity, or taking enforcement action.
The report is part of our industry performance program, which measures, evaluates, and reports on the energy development activities that we regulate.