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6 sustainable solutions for reducing GHG emissions at pipeline facilities

November 24, 2020

By Peter Bortolin, Sabrina Bleay and Harold Henry

Rethinking engineering and construction practices can reduce the carbon footprint for Oil & Gas pipeline projects

The push to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is at the forefront as we continue to close in on our 2050 net-zero targets set by the Paris Agreement. Governmental agencies for countries pledged to the cause are clamping down on companies to aid them in their efforts. Even just last month in the Canadian Government’s throne speech, Justin Trudeau and Liberal Party of Canada vowed to cut GHGs by 30% by 2030. 

This has prompted industry experts to search for innovative ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their projects. Whether designing a high-efficiency building envelop or adding hydrogen to our energy infrastructure, everyone is seeking methods and technologies to help reduce emissions in both the short and long term.

The same is true about the Oil & Gas sector: We are always looking for ways to deliver the most efficient projects for our clients and the communities they serve. This contributes to reducing global emissions and it provides our clients with stronger social license to operate in an age where climate responsibility is vital.

We can’t build our way to a clean energy future overnight. Fossil fuels will remain our primary source of energy for the near future and pipelines must operate as we strive toward 100% renewable energy. But what can pipeline operators do to reduce emissions right now? Here are six sustainable solutions for reducing GHG emissions at pipeline facilities.

We are always looking for ways to deliver the most efficient projects for our clients and the communities they serve.

1. Understand emissions targets—right from the start

Before you begin your pipeline facilities project, make sure to have a robust understanding of mandated emissions targets. This is important for several reasons. Not only do you need to know what targets your facilities need to hit now but it will give you a better idea of where you’ll need to improve in the future. This information will aid in the design of a facility, as well as in the construction process (which we’ll get to later). Understanding emissions targets can also save your project money as governments around the world are providing grants to operating companies who meet or exceed emissions targets.

2. Commit to regular maintenance

Whether operating a new or existing pipeline facility, one of the easiest things you can do to cut back on GHGs is to eliminate fugitive emissions. Fugitive emission are emissions lost due to inefficient infrastructure, such as leaks from valves, seals, gauges, or hoses. This might seem rudimentary, but you’d be surprised by the amount of fugitive emissions lost due to gaps in maintenance.

Heading forward, the electric actuation of valves will be an attractive option for operators seeking to cut back on GHGs.

3. Electric actuation of valves

Another way that operators are reducing the carbon footprint of their pipeline facilities is by transitioning to electric valves.

In the past, pipelines were predominantly driven by gas-actuated valves. No more. Heading forward, the electric actuation of valves is an attractive option for operators seeking to cut back on GHGs. Why? Because it can contribute to emissions reduction on a per-use basis. Every time a valve is actuated via electricity, rather than gas, we are reducing the carbon footprint.

4. Reduce inefficiencies, maximize recovery

One of the best ways to reduce GHG emissions at pipeline facilities is maximize the recovery of vapor and waste heat. Vapor refers to the vent gas emitted from tanks and storage. If we can capture that vapor, rather than let be released into the atmosphere, we can use it to generate electricity.

The same is true for waste heat. By converting that heat into energy, operators can use it to electrify their facilities at lower costs. In some cases, operators can even direct some of that energy back to the grid to help power nearby communities.

We are always looking for ways to deliver the most efficient projects for our clients and the communities they serve.

5. Find ways to implement renewable energy sources

Whether designing a new pipeline facility or retrofitting an existing one, a key method of reducing GHGs is using renewable energy wherever possible. This can include electrifying pipeline valves with solar panels, supporting pipeline facilities with wind turbines, or blending hydrogen with fuels to reduce emissions. In optimal settings, all three methods are possible and can work together to greatly reduce the energy required from fossil fuel sources.

6. Consider GHGs throughout construction

One of the most overlooked angles of reducing the carbon footprint of a pipeline facility is the construction process—it needs to be part of your environmental planning.

Why? Because the emissions created during construction are included in the overall carbon footprint. By designing a project with the construction process in mind, pipeline operators can reduce several threats to the environment. Let’s look at some examples below:

  • Build up, not out. Wherever possible, incorporate existing infrastructure into your project. This helps to minimize land clearing and soil disruption to lessen the impact of your project.
  • Eliminate material waste. Whether moving dirt, bringing in concrete or steel, or repurposing waste for a good cause, eliminating material waste helps to reduce emissions during the construction process.
  • Use sustainable timber. Most pipeline projects require land clearing. Strategize this process so that any trees removed to build the pipeline facility can be used in the construction process as cribbing, crane mats, and more.
  • Avoid temporary power. In the past, pipeline projects would use generators to power their sites. These generators would run 24 hours per day, using up a lot of fuel. Now, sites are reducing their carbon footprint by turning toward the grid for energy, rather than using temporary power.
  • Implement transportation policies. There are a few ways that projects can reduce GHGs by setting transportation standards. Using buses to transport employees to and from a site can reduce the amount of traffic and emissions. No-idle policies are also good practice for vehicles that are needed on site. Where possible, use electric vehicles at the project site.

One of the best ways to reduce GHG emissions at pipeline facilities is maximize the recovery of vapor and waste heat.

Higher standards, lower emissions for a more sustainable future

We are all on the same journey toward a more sustainable future—every industry needs to buy into the process if we hope to reach our 2050 targets. The Oil & Gas sector is no different. By rethinking engineering and construction, we can help deliver high-efficiency projects for pipeline operators.

Again, we are not going to be able to build a 100% sustainable future overnight. But we can take appropriate actions now to reduce GHGs and minimize our carbon footprint for future generations, one step at a time.

Learn more about our Oil & Gas team, our projects, and the clients and communities we serve here.

  • Peter Bortolin

    From cross-country transmission pipelines to refinery processes, Peter leads our oil and gas work in Ontario and Quebec. As a project manager, engineer, and business developer, Peter revitalizes aging assets and supports renewables such as biogas.

    Contact Peter
  • Sabrina Bleay

    As a regulatory manager, Sabrina helps clients navigate federal, provincial, and municipal regulations. She supports energy projects by understanding and meeting legislation requirements, obtaining permits and approvals, and with ongoing compliance.

    Contact Sabrina
  • Harold Henry

    As vice president of Oil & Gas, Harold oversees projects including pipelines, terminals, mining, power, and water. He has experience in engineering, procurement, and construction and engineering, procurement, and construction management.

    Contact Harold
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