Athabasca Oil Pipeline

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This article is part of the Global Fossil Infrastructure Tracker, a project of Global Energy Monitor and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Athabasca Oil Pipeline is an oil pipeline in Alberta, Canada.[1] The pipeline stretches 540 kilometers just north of Fort McMurray, connecting oil tar sands from the Athabasca field and delivering it downstream to Enbridge's main pipeline system.[2] As of 2017, Enbridge completed a twining project of the Athabasca oil pipeline, running 345 kilometers of newly constructed pipeline parallel to the original pipeline South of Kirby Lake[3]


The pipeline runs from Fort McMurray, Alberta, to Hardisty, Alberta.

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Project Details

  • Operator: Enbridge[1]
  • Current capacity: 345,000 barrels per day
  • Proposed capacity:570,000 barrels per day
  • Length: 540 kilometers
  • Status: Operating
  • Start Year: 1999


The pipeline runs south from Enbridge's Athabasca terminal North of Fort McMurray, which services Suncor's oil sands production via the Cheecham and Kirby Lake terminals to the Enbridge Battle Creek terminal at Hardisty.[4]

The pipeline stretches through rugged terrain, such as forest and muskeg areas which are only accessible during the winter months when the swamps freeze over. Additionally, the pipeline crosses two major rivers, the Athabasca and Saskatchewan rivers on its route south to Enbridge's major pipelines at Hardisty, which run Southeast all the way into the United States.[5]


The Athabasca Pipeline (Line 19) is a 540-kilometer (335-mile), 30-inch-diameter oil pipeline, with average annual capacity of up to 570,000 barrels per day. The pipeline transports tar sands oil from the Athabasca oil sands in the Fort McMurray region to Hardisty, Alberta. The Athabasca Terminal is located just north of Fort McMurray[6]

Enbridge Athabasca received regulatory approval to construct the pipeline from the EUB (Energy and Utilities Board) in 1998 while oil began flowing from what was then Alberta's largest crude-oil pipeline in 1999. The Athabasca pipeline was a key project as it was the first pipeline to directly connect the oil sands deposits between Northeastern Alberta and Canada's main crude oil pipelines and cost an estimated $475 million.[7]


In 2011, Enbridge announced its plan to invest $2.1 billion into the expansion of the Athabasca pipeline. The company's plan was originally planned to add up to 450,000 barrels of oil per day by twining the line between between Kirby Lake, South of Fort McMurray, and Hardisty, the first pipeline's terminus as well[8]

The new pipeline measures 345 kilometers and has a diameter of 914 mm(36 inches), running parallel to the original Athabasca pipeline beginning from the Kirby Lake terminal. The new pipeline's capacity is now expected to be up to 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day.[9] The project was initially slated to begin operations in 2015, but was delayed until 2017.[10]


There have been several leaks from the Athabasca oil pipeline since it began operations in 1999. In 2004 approximately 1,635 barrels of crude oil were spilled when a valve failed on the Athabasca pipeline system. In 2008, approximately 252 barrels of crude oil were released when a drain line on a meter manifold at Athabasca Terminal failed near Fort McMurray, Alberta. In 2009, a leak occurred near Cheecham, Alberta at Enbridge Athabasca’s Cheecham Terminal where approximately 5,749 barrels of oil were released, although a significant amount of the leak was contained onsite. However, the spray from the leak was swept downwind of the terminal, contaminating an area 450 meters by 1,500 meters.[11]

In 2012, the Energy Resources Conservation Board reported that an estimated 1,450 barrels of oil leaked from the Athabasca pipeline at pumping station along the line in a rural area of Alberta.[12] Despite the spill being relatively small, the spill occurred less than two years after the much larger Enbridge pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River, Michigan, further affecting Enbridge's image among the public [13] at time when it has plans to construct and expand various pipelines, including a twin to the Athabasca pipeline.[14]

Ecological Issues and Opposition to Tar Sands

Those who have been most affected by the rapid development of tar sands production have been various First Nation communities in the surrounding areas. The entire Athabasca delta has been transformed into a devastated ecosystem of deforestation, open pit mines and polluted watershed.[15] The Athabasca river is essential to the First Nations in the area for for food, water, transport, and other necessary aspects of life. However, many people can no longer rely on it for food or water due to a fear of contamination. The pollution downstream from fort McMurray has degraded water quality enough to force the McKay First Nation to use bottled water for bathing. Additionally, the river has decreased by 20-30% since the 1970s due to a combination of drought and industrial use of river water in the tar sands fields.[16]

While there hasn't been any direct opposition to the Athabasca pipeline itself, there has been substantial resistance to further exploitation of the tar sands fields which feed the Athabasca pipeline. Even though the properties of tar sands are extremely corrosive and thus increase the likelihood for spills in the future, oil companies increase tar sands exploitation while Enbridge expands its pipeline network.[17] Indigenous groups and environmentalists have organized a divestment campaign to prevent further expansion of tar sands oil across North America.[18]

Articles and resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 Athabasca Oil Pipeline, A Barrel Full, accessed September 2017
  2. Enbridge, Corporate Research Proejct, accessed September 2017
  3. Enbridge Athabasca Pipeline To Be Twinned South Of Kirby.] Pipeline News North, September 12, 2011
  4. Parallel Lines The Diluent Trail Across Canada – Part 8 Hardisty Diluent Supply, RBN Energy, December 23, 2014
  5. Athabasca Pipeline to Handle Growing Oilsands Production, Oil & Gas Journal, April 26, 1999
  6. Enbridge Assets, Enbridge, accessed September 2017
  7. Athabasca pipeline to handle growing oilsands production, Oil & Gas Journal, April 26, 1999
  8. Nathan Vanderklippe, "Enbridge to Expand Athabasca Pipeline", The Globe and Mail, September 12, 2011
  9. Athabasca Pipeline Twinning Project, Enbridge, accessed September 2017
  10. 2017 Canadian Oil Pipeline Report, Trenchless Technology, accessed September 2017
  11. Enbridge Major Spills,, accessed September 2017
  12. Sean Kheraj,"Alberta Oil Pipeline Spills Past and Present: The Enbridge Athabasca Pipeline Heavy Crude Oil Spill", Canadian History and Environment, June 20, 2012
  13. Christopher Helman, "Despite Spills, More Oil Sands Pipelines Are Coming", Forbes, June 26, 2012
  14. Parallel Lines The Diluent Trail Across Canada – Part 8 Hardisty Diluent Supply, RBN energy, accessed September 2017
  15. Tar Sands and Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Environmental Network, accessed September 2017
  16. Alberta’s Oil Sands: Hard Evidence, Missing Data, New Promises, Environmental Health Perspectives, accessed September 2017
  17. New Report Sounds the Alarm on Central Canada and New England Tar Sands Pipeline Scheme, NRDC Press Release, June 19, 2012
  18. Indigenous Leaders Launch New Campaign to Defund All Four Proposed Tar Sands Pipelines, Mazaska Talks (Money Talks), accessed September 2017

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