A pipeline welcomed by residents

Date: 
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

FortisBC’s Surrey to Coquitlam gas line

By David Hogben

Some pipelines are a lot more popular than others. While projects like the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion provokes protest and political battles, hundreds of workers are methodically completing FortisBC’s $171-million expansion of its 11-kilometre, Surreyto- Coquitlam natural gas pipeline.

“Natural gas is different than crude oil,” IBEW Local 213 apprentice Michael Little said. “Just about everybody uses natural gas.”

Pipeline technician and fellow Local 213 member Brian Christianson said people understand how natural gas improves their lives and welcome the service. “People understand. They want their heat and hot water.”

It doesn’t hurt either that the gas transported through the pipeline is all for FortisBC’s own B.C. customers.

“We are not upgrading this to sell overseas. This is just for our own customers,” Christianson said.

Coquitlam and Surrey are growing rapidly, so rapidly growing demand for natural gas means FortisBC needs to increase the size of the 585 poundsper- square inch urban pipeline.

Construction started in the spring and is expected to finish this winter. Ten kilometers of 36-inch natural gas pipeline are to be laid between the Cape Horn and Coquitlam (Spuraway Avenue) stations in Coquitlam and from the south shore of the Fraser River to the Nichol Station on 138A Street in Surrey.

A 1.2-kilometre section of 42-inch pipeline is being laid between the Nichol and Roebuck stations.

“There’s lots of work. Any time your company is investing in infrastructure, it means there’s going to be long-term employment for a lot of trades coming up,” Christianson said above the dull roar of generators powering arc welding equipment at FortisBC’s Roebuck station in Surrey.

“When work like this comes up, everybody is happy. There’s lots of work and extra hours making the money.”

Christianson has worked for FortisBC for 27 years, the last 10 in the transmission division. Every shift begins the same way: Workers discuss the work for the day, potential dangers in doing that work, and how they will lower the risks and work safely.

The Coastal Pipeline Operations crew that Christianson works on has gone more than four decades without a lost-time accident.

Little said he was thrilled to apprentice with FortisBC and left his previous job as a sewer worker with the City of Vancouver.

“Compared to sewers, I like working with gas,” Little said with a smile. Regular working hours, training, and the money are also pretty attractive. When he completes his apprenticeship, the hourly union wage in his starting role as distribution mechanic will be $35.65 an hour, with additional opportunities for overtime. A unionized tradesperson at a utility company like FortisBC also has job security and a pension plan.

Sparks were flying from the arc welders as Christianson showed where workers had excavated for the new pipeline and concrete had been poured. IBEW welders were connecting a remotely controlled valve to control the flow of natural gas.

Not only will the pipeline expansion give FortisBC more capacity to serve customers in Surrey, Coquitlam and beyond, but it will also make for a safer pipline by allowing the inline inspection to be done by a robot known as a PIG (short for pipeline inspection gauge–some also make a pig-like screaming sound as they move through the pipeline). The robotic–smart PIGs– roam inside the pipeline testing walls for corrosion or other defects and removing debris from inside the lines.

The completed pipeline laid down alongside the almost 60-year-old original line will cross 39 roads, 4 highways, 1 railway, and 21 First Nation communities. Where possible, roads will be crossed without disrupting traffic. Boring machines will dig out under the roads and the pipe will then be pulled through.

Open-trench construction is used in many areas. And that can be a surprise for property holders “when I show up with excavators, dump trucks stuff, like that,” Christianson said.

Some property owners are pretty shocked when they find out FortisBC will be digging up their backyard, but they tend to end up happy when the project is complete, Christianson said. “We leave it better than we found it. That’s our attitude. If the fence was just about falling over, the guy will end up getting a new fence.”

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