Did you know that Canada’s natural gas system dates back to even before the country’s Confederation?
It is true — Canada’s first transmission pipeline was built in 1853. The 25 kilometre pipeline was made of cast iron and moved natural gas — at the time, it was the longest pipeline in the world!1
Natural gas delivery has been around a long time in Canada, but its significant growth really occurred after the Second World War.
Distribution mains (the pipes under roads and between communities) were built with increased frequency over the middle decades of the 20th century, with construction peaking in the 1980s. More recently, we have seen new additions to the natural gas distribution system slow, as most large populated regions of the country are already connected to the gas network. Given the thousands of kilometres of mains and services pipelines installed over decades, it is not surprising that natural gas utilities are spending close to $3 billion each year to renew and extend their systems.
Bare steel and cast iron pipelines were more steadily constructed between the 1950s to 1980s to transport manufactured gas. As unprotected steel and cast iron are prone to corrosion and small leakages, they have been phased-out over time. Modern distribution systems no longer include cast iron, and steel pipelines are protected by specialized coatings and corrosion-prevention systems. Polyethylene (PE) is considered a very suitable pipeline construction material and has been used on an increasing basis over the years, including in higher pressure systems. The majority (71%) of the pipeline distribution system, both mains, and services, in Canada are comprised of high and medium-density PE. The Canadian Gas Association’s utility members no longer have cast iron pipelines and the switch to PE pipes has resulted in significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. By way of example, from the 1990s to early 2012, Enbridge Gas replaced around 1,800 km of cast iron and coated steel pipelines, which led to a reduction of 145,000 tCO2e of fugitive methane emissions, annually.2
Figure 1: Historical Mains and Services pipeline additions for the gas distribution system
Figure 2: Distribution of pipeline materials for Canada’s natural gas distribution system
- “Pipeline History” online: About Pipelines <https://www.aboutpipelines.com/en/pipeline-101/pipeline-history/>.
- “Resilient Energy Infrastructure: Addressing Climate-Related Risks and Opportunities” online: Enbridge Gas <www.enbridge.com/sustainability-reports/resilient-energy-infrastructure/metrics-and-targets>.