Pipeline Integrity

Corporate Responsibility

Pipeline Integrity

Our approach to pipeline integrity management works to prevent pipeline failures, by placing a strong focus on proactive management, from risk identification to mitigation. We assess each pipeline based on the likelihood of failure and the potential consequences of that failure. Evaluations and inspections are ongoing (including annual subsea pipeline inspections at our International operations as existing asset conditions change and new assets are acquired. Pipeline integrity management and makes sure pipelines are designed, built and operated to be safe, reliable and sustainable.

Our risk-based, comprehensive pipeline integrity management system includes:

  • Proven assessment tools to effectively deploy resources and capital to areas of highest exposure to manage our pipeline inventory — including detailed evaluations of our pipeline inventory with a strong focus on high consequence pipelines, such as pipelines that cross water bodies.
  • Effective and efficient execution of mitigation activities — including corrosion mitigation and monitoring programs, planned inspections and repairs, incident investigation, internal and external audits and regulatory engagement.
  • Effective spill and emergency response — if a leak or spill occurs, the consequence is minimized through our Emergency Management and spill preparedness programs, which are subject to regular "tabletop" practice exercises .
  • Focus on continuous improvement — program auditing and incident investigations allow us to implement lessons learned and ensure best practices are in place.

Read about our strong Pipeline Integrity Management programs and performance in the 2019 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders.

Pipeline water crossing management

Canadian Natural’s pipeline network intersects a number of flowing water bodies. Management of water and slope crossing pipelines is a focus of our work because they are relatively higher risk. 

Our integrity management system includes a GeoHazard Management System that considers long-term geological and environmental conditions to effectively manage pipelines crossing water bodies. Our systems monitor river flow conditions in real time. If waters rise to certain thresholds, alerts are sent to operations staff, allowing for pipeline shut-in prior to a potential integrity incident.

This system relies on a comprehensive assessment methodology including: 

  • a risk-based inventory of each pipeline water crossing and each right-of-way slope of concern;
  • a prioritization process that is aligned to our Corporate Risk Criteria Matrix;
  • likelihood assessment criteria developed by industry-recognized GeoHazard specialists;
  • a stakeholder review process;
  • an engineering assessment process; and
  • a specialized monitoring (flood and slope activity) and mitigation process.

Leak detection systems

Canadian Natural has a dedicated leak detection team focused on improving pipeline leak detection systems. 

All our high-risk leak detection systems on liquids pipelines were assessed in 2018 and assigned inspection frequency. In 2019, we conducted 339 planned tests on these pipelines, where liquids were safely drawn off at different rates to simulate leaks. Testing allowed us to evaluate how systems respond in the event of an actual leak, and identify further leak detection system improvements, such as accuracy and detection capabilities. 

We continue to leverage fiber optic technology to detect small leak rates. The first system was implemented in an environmentally sensitive area in Swan Hills, Alberta. Fiber optic technology allows Operations personnel to shut down pipeline activity before a failure occurs.

Pipeline abandonment

At Canadian Natural, we also coordinate our pipeline abandonments with our facility and well abandonment and reclamation programs, so that our sites are left in a safe and environmentally sound manner at the end of a project’s life cycle. Read about our comprehensive environmental closure program that is accelerating reclamation timelines here.

Transporting Canada's energy safely

We believe pipelines are the safest and most efficient means of transporting crude oil and natural gas. In addition to focusing on our own pipeline safety and integrity, we support the oil and natural gas industry’s efforts to raise awareness about transmission pipeline safety. Our Company and industry are working hard to ensure that Canada’s oil and natural gas continues to be developed responsibly with world-leading environmental performance standards.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) Pipeline Performance Reportshows that pipeline incidents continue to decline. Over the past 10 years, even as the total length of pipelines grew by 11%, the number of pipeline incidents dropped by 48% in the province. In Alberta, all incidents must be reported to the AER. This includes ones with little or no liquid released, drips from loose valves, or hits on pipelines during digging that caused no leaks. Most incidents have little impact on the public, wildlife, or the environment; about two-thirds of incidents in 2017 released less than one cubic metre of substance.

We also support efforts by the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), which represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 119,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada. CEPA members transport 97% of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil production throughout Canada and across international borders, with a rate of 99.999% safe delivery of product. 

Facilities Integrity

We strive to ensure our pressure equipment is maintained and operated in a safe manner to prevent incidents and safeguard our people and the environment. To manage the integrity of each piece of pressure equipment during its entire lifecycle, we prioritize inspections, monitoring and maintenance plans.

Pressure Equipment Integrity Management Systems

To manage the integrity of our pressure equipment in Canada, we have Pressure Equipment Integrity Management Systems (PEIMS) for North America Exploration and Production (NA E&P) and Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading operations. Our PEIMS are supported by Canadian Natural’s Management, Operations, Engineering, Asset Integrity and Safety groups. Each program is registered and remains fully compliant with the regional jurisdictions in which we operate. They are subject to periodic audits by the provincial pressure equipment safety authorities — the Alberta Boilers Safety Association (ABSA) and the Technical Safety Authority of Saskatchewan (TSASK). 

Our PEIMS are in-house quality assurance programs. Our staff is certified and undergoes a rigorous competency assessment to perform pressure equipment inspections, facilities engineering, and operations and maintenance work on piping systems. To ensure they are properly trained, our PEIMS includes a Competency Based Training Program that focuses on training requirements/areas needed for each job.

In alignment with our North American operations, our International division has Integrity Management Systems in place for Pressure Systems, Pipelines, Structures and Subsea Control Systems.

Pressure Equipment Assessments

Additional key components of our management system include:

  • Risk-based pressure equipment assessments – Thorough technical review of our equipment is carried out to determine if we can extend inspection frequencies cost effectively, while maintaining safety and reliability of our facilities. These assessments enhance asset integrity and optimize the inspection intervals for pressure equipment in our NA E&P operations.
  • Corrosion under insulation inspections (CUI) – To manage the threat of potential incidents due to corrosion on our offshore platforms, a CUI strategy prioritizes the inspection and repair requirements through Risk Based Inspection (RBI) assessments, reducing the risk of leaks.

Read our 2019 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders for more information on our Facility Integrity management programs.

Structural Integrity

Structural Integrity programs work to maximize the integrity of operational structures through careful design, safe operation and proper maintenance throughout the facilities’ lifecycle. These programs ensure processes are in place to prevent significant incidents at structures that support our oil and natural gas production facilities.

Mooring Chain Integrity Program

Our Floating Production, Storage and Offtake (FPSO) vessels in Offshore Africa and the North Sea are held on location by mooring systems. Mooring systems are critical pieces of equipment as they are the sole means of holding the vessel in place when oil and natural gas production is brought on board for processing and subsequent export. 

Dropped Object Potential Surveys

Dropped Object Potential Surveys are conducted to inspect and ensure the asset integrity of our structures, and to avoid potential dropped objects that could occur, for example, from corroded structures. Dropped object audits make certain our work practices and procedures are industry compliant; if the audit process identifies any deviations, corrective actions are taken.

Our audit programs raise awareness within our workforce to the safety risks posed by dropped objects. By understanding the potential threats, we are better able to have procedures and measures in place to prevent such occurrences. 

Read our 2019 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders for highlights of our Structural Integrity management programs.

Tailings dam safety

We are committed to dam integrity, monitoring and tailings management to ensure safe, reliable, efficient and effective operations. Canadian Natural follows the leading practices of the Canadian Dam Association for dam safety management. Tailings from our oil sands mining operations are stored in external (out-of-pit) and in-pit tailings facilities. When operations of each facility is completed, each tailings pit will be reclaimed to create a landscape that can support a self-sustaining, locally-common boreal forest ecosystem.

As a member of the Mining Association of Canada (MAC), Canadian Natural’s AOSP operations have been audited under the MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) program, receiving the highest rating of “AAA” for tailings management. Our Horizon operations will report as part of the TSM program for 2020.

Our tailings management program is subject to multiple external audits, internal reviews and continuous monitoring. The design, construction and performance of the tailings dams are reviewed twice annually by an Independent Review Board of internationally recognized experts in tailings dam safety. A comprehensive dam safety review is performed every five years by an independent consulting firm.

Emergency response plans are in place and tested annually to evaluate preparedness for a safe and well-coordinated response in the event of an incident with a tailings facility. Canadian Natural’s dam safety program has been audited by the Alberta Energy Regulator and is compliant in all aspects.