The Trans Mountain pipeline will undergo hydrostatic testing through the Coquihalla corridor starting on Friday.
Hydrostatic tests are routine in the industry and this one is not related to two leaks in the pipeline detected last summer at Kingsvale and in the Coquihalla canyon, the company said.
“This is part of our integrity and maintenance program, so this test in particular we’ve been planning for the last couple of years,” said Andy Galarnyk, director of external relations for the company. “We have been doing integrity maintenance on this part of the pipeline this summer.”
Galarnyk said the testing, which will take four or five days to complete, is also unrelated to the company’s proposal to expand the pipeline system.
“We’ll drain that section of the pipeline, then we’ll fill it with water and the water will be pumped to a pressure greater than when we’re shipping petroleum products. Then we’ll hold that pressure for a period of time.”
A successful test will show the National Energy Board, industry regulator, that the 60-year-old pipeline is capable of withstanding maximum operating pressure.
Since the two leaks were repaired in August, the pipeline has been operating at 80 per cent of its maximum capacity.
“That will allow us to go back to normal operating pressure.”
The test itself will take two days to complete, running for 10 hours each day. It will require another four or five days to monitor for leaks.
“We’ll have quite a good crew at the various locations. We’re testing in sections because it is quite a long stretch of pipeline.”
David Ellis, a self-appointed pipeline watchdog who has been observing the maintenance work since last summer’s leaks, believes problems are more extensive than the company acknowledges.
“They now know that this is not going to go well as many weak points will leak, if indeed the pipeline is tested to the pressure required by the regulations,” he noted in an email.
Ellis thinks the old pipeline should be permanently shut down where it parallels the Coquihalla River. In the least, heavier oil sands bitumen should not be shipped this winter, he says.
The 35-km test spread extends from the Juliet interchange on the Coquhalla Highway to Boston Bar. Public access will be restricted in the testing area to ensure safety, the company said. Through the canyon, the right-of-way is shared by the Trans-Canada Trail, popular for recreation.
The last time such testing was done on the pipeline was after construction of the Anchor Loop through the Rocky Mountains in 2006.
“That pipeline’s been in operation for 60 years and we’ve been doing tests throughout its history,” Galarnyk said.