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In the trenches: FortisBC embarks on 11-kilometre natural gas line

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by Russell Hixson

The days are warm and dusty along the 11 kilometre worksite for FortisBC’s Surrey to Coquitlam gas line upgrade.
Crews work at a FortisBC site to lower a natural gas pipe into place. The 11-kilometre Surrey to Coquitlam gas line upgrade, on track to finish this fall, is intended to increase reliability and capacity for the existing line.
Crews work at a FortisBC site to lower a natural gas pipe into place. The 11-kilometre Surrey to Coquitlam gas line upgrade, on track to finish this fall, is intended to increase reliability and capacity for the existing line. - Photo: FortisBC

To combat this, watering trucks roll down the right-of-way each day sprinkling water. Construction on the project started in the spring. It is one of the only major gas line upgrades FortisBC has done in the Lower Mainland in more than 50 years, making the sight of workers placing the massive 42-inch pipes in the ground a rare one.

More than 700,000, or 70 per cent, of FortisBC customers rely on these sections to deliver natural gas to their homes and businesses through gas lines, which are in many cases tucked under the streets.

"The line runs within the existing utility corridor so we have an existing natural gas line and we are building a second line, or a backup line, parallel to the existing one," said project manager Ian Miki on a recent tour of the site. "We want to continue to provide safe, reliable service to our customers, and part of that is to add redundancy to our system. By adding a second line, we add the redundancy and eliminate single points of failure."

He added that population growth in the area in the past few decades has also made the expanded capacity necessary.

Planning and engineering for the project started three years ago and now that construction has started Miki expects it to wrap up around mid-October. Then crews will go along the site doing clean up and restoration.

"The biggest challenge is working in a very busy, congested utility corridor," said Miki. "This urban corridor has lots of utilities like electrical lines, an existing gas line and water lines. We cross roads, we cross a railway, we cross creeks. Just the congestion and the amount of limited space is certainly our biggest challenge."

The upgrade crosses 39 roads, four highways, one railway and 21 First Nation communities. FortisBC estimates the overall capital cost of the project will be $171 million.

Being in the utilities corridor also means the project team has to work closely with the highways ministry, two municipalities, the oil and gas commission, residents and business owners.

"One of our goals is to minimize the impact to homeowners, businesses and the travelling public," Miki said.

Spraying water to minimize dirt was just one of many ways Miki has tried to do this. During the wet spring crews used fencing and ditching to minimize water runoff and soil erosion.

The pipe being installed is between 36 and 42 inches in diameter, roughly the size of a hula hoop. The installation will allow crews to use state-of-the-art technology to do system inspections using a high-tech robot called "a pig."

The work is in its peak currently, with 20 active worksites and approximately 300 field workers.

"Personally it has been a very challenging, interesting project, we believe that it is necessary for FortisBC to continue to provide safe reliable service for its customers," Miki said.

Crews wrap gas pipeline pieces in a protective material in Coquitlam, B.C. with the Port Mann Bridge in the background. FortisBC is constructing an 11 kilometre Surrey to Coquitlam gas line upgrade.

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