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B.C. as a pipeline centre of excellence

kelowna daily

B.C. as a pipeline centre of excellence

Written by: Greg Lynch for The Kelowna Daily, February 6, 2014

What characteristics mark the most successful industries in this province? I’d argue they include talent, technology, markets and momentum.

In the case of the pipeline sector, BC is in a very strong position. With extensive design work, public engagement and regulatory review for the Northern Gateway Pipeline project all well under way, it appears we’re on a good path.

Certainly there’s still a great deal of work to do in order to gain the social license to build the line. But in terms of growing an industrial economy that’s sought after the world over, we need the pipeline as well as some smart coordination, and the resolve to win.

In short, I say we need an energy pipeline centre of excellence in the province. To my mind, Northern Gateway can play a significant role not only in employment, but in skills training for the future – and for a range of markets beyond just BC. In that way, the province as a whole stands to win.

Northern Gateway still needs to achieve approval by the federal cabinet and it must satisfy Premier Clark’s five conditions in connection with environmental, social and economic factors.

Once these milestones have been accomplished, the sequence to move forward on an industry centre of excellence might go something like this: first, we in the broader industry design and build a pipeline to the highest practical standards.

Next, we monitor and maintain the project in a safe, environmentally acceptable manner.

And finally, we take those experiences and that evolving technical expertise and we market it to other jurisdictions considering new pipeline infrastructure.

Think of it as an engineering centre of excellence, a coordinated system of identifying the very best in people, practices and technology and providing our home-grown knowledge across the globe.

As an example of how such a system can help an economy grow and prosper over time, one only has to look across the border to the State of Washington, where two strong, mature, international sectors have emerged from earlier projects – aerospace and software engineering.
Boeing and Microsoft, for example, were catalysts for the creation of large numbers of businesses, well-paying jobs and skills training opportunities that in turn attracted new companies and innovative thinking and talent to Washington State.

The pipeline sector could act as a catalyst in BC to drive that same kind of growth and opportunity in a range of areas from high tech engineering to construction, and from software control systems to environmental protection.

My own expertise is in the engineering of distributed control systems (DCS) that spread out the control of a pipeline or other infrastructure over long distances in real time. DCS allows safe, reliable and very fast monitoring – a crucial attribute when the line spans an entire province or more.

But as technology evolves, people like me get to do more of our work not in Fort McMurray or Fort Saint John, but in home towns like my own, Kelowna, not generally thought of as an oil and gas centre.

My hope is that we push even further on the pipeline opportunity and take our locally grown engineering talent to the international marketplace.

I mentioned momentum as a key ingredient to success. In the case of the Northern Gateway Pipeline project, momentum appears to be building in favour of the project, jobs, the economy and BC’s future.

A December poll sponsored by the BC Chamber of Commerce found 47 percent of British Columbians asked said they support the project. Importantly, the poll found BC support for Northern Gateway would move up to 57 percent if the project receives a positive recommendation from the Joint Review Panel, which it now has done, contingent on 209 conditions.

There’s little doubt a strong economic case exists for Northern Gateway, including a $6.5 billion investment in our economy, 3,000 jobs during construction and 560 permanent BC jobs, plus $1.2 billion in revenue for BC’s treasury over the next 30 years.

Add to that the vitally important fact that we must gain access to international markets beyond the US or we’ll continue to lose billions of dollars a year through a lack of market competition.

But even greater opportunity lies in building our own leading technological capacity over time, bringing talent in from both here and outside, coordinating across the province and networking internationally, and then moving forward with strength.

We have the pieces in place; we’re building the momentum. Let’s keep our eye fixed firmly on the future. Let’s build a safe, environmentally responsible pipeline, and while we’re doing so, let’s also build a global reputation as the best suppliers of energy infrastructure expertise anywhere.

Greg Lynch, P.Eng. is a senior electrical engineer with ICS Engineering Inc., specializing in distributed control systems for a range of sectors including oil and gas.

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