As work starts in Alberta, Trans Mountain expects to be laying pipe in B.C. in the spring

CALGARY – Trans Mountain Corp. chief executive Ian Anderson believes construction crews will be in a position to start putting pipelines in the ground in British Columbia in the spring, as the company has authorization to proceed with additional construction work.

Anderson, alongside Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, marked the beginning of pipeline construction at an event outside Edmonton on Tuesday.

While preparatory work has been underway for months, the company is now — after years of delays — preparing to put its first pieces of large-diameter pipe into the ground in Alberta along the first of seven “spreads” or sections of the pipeline between Edmonton and metro Vancouver.

Anderson said he received approvals to begin work on Spreads 2 and 3 in the past two weeks and expects approvals for Spreads 3 and 4 imminently, which will take the company into B.C. by the spring.

“By next spring, we’ll certainly be working in British Columbia on Spreads 3 and 4,” Anderson said. “Scheduling is now a day-to-day activity.”

The announcement of construction work — not just preparatory work — was intended to soothe fears in Alberta over multiple years of delays for the 590,000-barrels-per-day Trans Mountain Expansion project, which will twin an existing oil pipeline to the West Coast.

“This is a good day for our energy sector, it’s a good day for Alberta and it’s a good day for Canada,” said O’Regan, who noted that he’s now visited Alberta three times in the past two weeks in his new role.

“This pipeline will get built,” he said.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, who has in the recent past criticized the approach of the federal government towards pipelines, said during the event that she was pleased the new federal minister was listening to Alberta’s economic concerns and pressing ahead with the pipeline.

“That’s why it’s crucial the project not be subject to any further delays between now and completion. And while completion is the one true measure of success, it’s important to acknowledge milestones — like this — along the way,” Savage said.

She noted that the pipeline project was critical for Alberta because oil production in the province has surpassed existing pipeline capacity and companies in the province are increasingly turning to shipping their crude out on rails.

In fact, Calgary-based midstream company Gibson Energy Inc. announced Tuesday afternoon that it would partner with Houston-based US Development Group LLC to build a facility in Alberta that would help squeeze more bitumen onto railway cars. Neither company disclosed costs for the project and Gibson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The facility is called a diluent recovery unit (DRU) and it would strip light oils, which are used as blending agents called diluents, out of bitumen before it’s loaded onto railway cars. As a result, oil companies could fit more of their bitumen onto the cars, thereby reducing their costs.

Gibson and US Development Group announced that Houston-based oil major ConocoPhillips Co. had signed an agreement to process 50,000 barrels per day of bitumen at the facility.

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