Decarbonizing natural gas distribution pipelines

T. Murray, Dynamic Risk

ATCO Gas and Pipelines Ltd. (ATCO) is continuously innovating to reduce emissions and provide clean energy to its customers. In 2018, ATCO kicked off its decarbonization plan in a review of its different business units to understand where opportunities existed to reduce emissions across its operations to meet the company’s ambitious environmental, social and governance (ESG) targets. Additionally, it was equally important for the company to help customers utilize gas more efficiently and support the reduction of their global emissions footprint by 2 MM metric tpy by 2030.

Given the current economic climate and the market’s substantial reliance on energy infrastructure to transport gas, it was vital for the company to find new ways to diversify how energy is delivered through its existing natural gas networks while reducing emissions.

Reducing emissions through hydrogen blending. To achieve net-zero targets set by governments and industry agencies, energy systems of the future will not include the greenhouse gas (GHG)-producing methods used today. As hydrogen (H2) becomes a key element in global decarbonization plans, H2 blending is the first step in that transition pathway.

In 2020, ATCO proposed H2 blending as an initial step in moving towards a low-carbon future, envisioning H2 as playing a central role in emissions reduction across the company’s domestic, commercial and industrial service lines. Blending H2 into natural gas is not a new idea—several systems are already in operation in Canada, Europe, Australia and the U.S. H2 blending involves the introduction of H2 into the natural gas stream, resulting in a blended fuel mixture. The addition of H2 reduces the GHG intensity of the burned natural gas stream by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced in the exhaust. H2 blending is an optimal solution to begin reducing CO2 emissions while still maintaining existing transportation methods to meet energy demands.

With an abundant natural gas supply, low-cost H2 production and carbon capture assets, and a large industrial demand, Alberta is a logical H2 hub in Canada. ATCO was awarded funding of $2.8 MM by Emissions Reduction Alberta as part of the organization’s Natural Gas Challenge, which supports the development of the Fort Saskatchewan Hydrogen Blending Pilot Project.

Fort Saskatchewan Hydrogen Blending Pilot Project. ATCO’s Fort Saskatchewan Hydrogen Blending Project will see 5 vol% H2 blended into a portion of the Fort Saskatchewan natural gas system to approximately 2,100 customers, making it the highest blend rate in Canada to date and the first project of its kind in Alberta. Once ATCO has completed 5 vol% H2 blending in 3Q 2022, the company plans to increase the H2 blend percentage to up to 20 vol% in 2023.

The chosen site for the pilot project had several important success criteria. Because the site is located in Alberta’s industrial heartland, the very energy-focused community is extremely supportive of investment opportunities from energy transition projects. This location made sense to ATCO for its public acceptance and customer engagement opportunities.

Additionally, Fort Saskatchewan is one of ATCO’s newer natural gas distribution pipeline networks. This provided an ideal location for the pilot—leveraging relatively modern design, construction and record management standards to determine and apply any required upgrades—and a viable site that offered adequate space for large-scale infrastructure.

Near the end of 2021, ATCO identified the technical, organizational and regulatory milestones for a successful pilot; this included risk assessments to evaluate the effects of delivering the blended fuel mix to its customers. The risk assessments would be used to demonstrate design safety and any potential impact to the community, including the identification of any concerns to address during design with proposed risk-reduction techniques. The independent risk assessments were also prepared for future potential regulatory reviews. However, since H2 was relatively new to the market, there were limited regulatory guidance and protocols in place for the proposed infrastructure.

With respect to their existing partnership, ATCO approached Dynamic Risk near the end of 2021 to discuss collaborating to complete a risk assessment of the H2 blending facility. Dynamic Risk’s successful completion of three previous risk assessments for ATCO’s Urban Pipeline Replacement Project, all of which were tested heavily by the Alberta Utilities Commission and by third-party experts, instilled trust and confidence in Dynamic Risk’s ability to provide expert-level guidance from prior experience in other jurisdictions to meet regulatory and public expectations.

Project outcome. The Hydrogen Blending Pilot Project risk assessment was completed in June 2022. Benefits of this project include:

  • Proactive approach for regulatory compliance on new projects and the conversion of existing infrastructure
  • Due diligence to showcase the safety of H2 blending
  • Meet corporate ESG and sustainability targets
  • Environmental stewardship through emissions reduction
  • Facilitate community investment in energy transition. GP


TM Resized 2

Tracey Murray is the Vice President, Sales & Marketing, for Dynamic Risk. Shebrings more than 15 yr of experience to her role, and has spent her career predominantly within the energy industry working for global technology companies, focused on strategic growth and market expansion through a streamlined sales and marketing approach. Murray holds her Bachelor’s of Management degree in business, with a minor in international marketing.

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