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New welding process used on Alberta pipeline

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by Richard Gilbert

Contractors working in extreme conditions with technology being used in Canada for the first time are about to complete the construction of a pipeline system stretching from an oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta. to an upgrader north of Edmonton.
New welding process used on Alberta pipeline

Contractors working in extreme conditions with technology being used in Canada for the first time are about to complete the construction of a pipeline system stretching from an oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta. to an upgrader north of Edmonton.

“The biggest challenge we faced is extreme construction conditions,” said Inter Pipeline Fund project manager David Pfeiffer.

“We worked many days at minus -40C and some days it went as low as -50C. The working days are short and the construction season is short, so we had to make a lot of progress in a very short period of time.”

Inter Pipeline Fund is in the final stages of completing construction on its $1.8 billion capacity expansion project on the Corridor pipeline system. This project stretches from Shell’s Athabasca oilsands project just outside Fort McMurray to the construction site of the Scotford upgrader near Edmonton.

“This was a large diameter pipeline project, so the welding process is mechanical,” said Pfeiffer. “For the first time in Canada, dual torch mechanical welding was used. The process was used to speed up welding on thicker wall or heavier pipe. A mechanized coating system was also used to cover the welding joints.”

The project involves the construction of 463 kilometres of 42-inch diameter pipeline and 43 kilometers of 20-inch diameter pipeline. Four large-scale pump stations were also built.

“Basically, there is a large production line with multiple crews working independently of each other, but also dependent on each other,” said Pfeiffer. “There is a production line of welding shacks that complete the welding. With winter construction, we don’t dig the trench until the pipe is welded up.”

Pfeiffer said sections of pipeline up to a kilometre in length are welded up, before another crew comes along to excavate the ditch. A cutting wheel can be used in the summer when the ground is not frozen.

When the sections are lowered into the trench, a tie-in crew comes along to weld the long sections together.

A crew with a backhoe fills in the ditch and the soil is compacted around the pipe. A crown is left over the ditch and the crew returns the following year to rework the ditch and replace the topsoil.

Shell Canada is currently finalizing the construction of the product storage tanks at the bitumen mine site and the Scotford upgrader.

The preliminary engineering for this project started in January 2005. Construction began in October, 2006, with the right of way being cleared, prepared and graded.

The main pipeline contractors on this project were Waschuk Pipeline, OJ Pipelines and Techint-Somerville JV. The main contractors for the facilities construction were Lockerbie & Hole and Cannonbie.

There were almost four million man hours of work involved in the construction of the project, with 1,400 workers at peak.

Inter Pipeline Fund announced earlier this month that $213 million in capital spending will be invested to complete facility construction, line fill and related commissioning costs.

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