Just past a high school, shops and houses, up a paved street in a forested area of Coquitlam, sits the FortisBC Eagle Mountain compressor station.
This compressor station is larger than what will be constructed at the foot of Mount Mulligan in Valleycliffe as part of the Eagle Mountain to Woodfibre Gas Pipeline Project, but it is similar, so The Chief recently took a tour to find out more.
The issue of the Woodfibre LNG project and the associated pipeline is highly divisive in our community. This isn't a column about whether the project is positive or negative for Squamish.
It merely aims to inform readers — most of whom can't take hours out of their day to drive to Coquitlam and take a tour — what the project's compressor station will look like and include.
The Eagle Mountain site is fenced and cameras are installed and monitored throughout the property — something this reporter found out with a shock when a disembodied voice welcomed her from a small speaker as she loitered outside the fence, having arrived early for the tour.
Simply put, compressor stations, strategicly placed along a pipeline route, help maintain the pressure in the pipe to keep natural gas flowing to its destination. As natural gas moves through a pipeline, it slows down due to distance, friction and elevation. The compressor units, driven by turbines, increase the pressure so the natural gas can carry on along the pipeline to customers.
There are 11 operational FortisBC compressor station sites in B.C.
The Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas Pipeline Project will expand Fortis' existing natural gas transmission system, which was built in 1990, and serves Squamish, the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island.
Construction of the Mount Mulligan compressor station is estimated to start in 2021, according to FortisBC, and be operational in 2022 or 2023.
"We still have some detailed design to do and procurement on some of the items can range between 12 and 18 months, so it won't be until we get into detailed design in 2019 that we can come up with finalizing what compressor unit, for example, that we want," said Darrin Marshall, senior project manager with FortisBC.
The new natural gas-powered compressor station at Mount Mulligan, on a former industrial woodlot, will be 1.8 kilometres from Valleycliffe homes.
The Coquitlam compressor station, which has been operating since 1991, is 600 metres from the nearest homes.
Measured from the entrance fence to behind the last building, the Coquitlam station is 250 metres by 80 metres, while the total footprint for the proposed Mount Mulligan compressor station will be 140 metres by 60 metres.
Within 150 metres of the building that houses the compressors, no industrial sound is detectable.
Originally, the plan was to put an electric-run compressor station in the Squamish Industrial Park. After negative feedback about that location from the Squamish Nation and other members of the community, the plan changed to place the station at Mount Mulligan and make it gas powered.
Were the station to go electric, hydro lines would need to be brought through the forest, necessitating a 30 metre-wide, five-kilometre-long right-of-way be cleared.
The compressor station in Coquitlam will also be expanded within its existing footprint with new electric-powered compressor units, as part of the Eagle Mountain to Woodfibre project.
Five employees work at the larger Coquitlam site, two or three will work at Mount Mulligan — each with instrument, electrical or millwright trade tickets. The stations are monitored in person and remotely 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.
The pressure of the natural gas in the pipe coming into the compressor station is usually about 500 psi. As it goes through the compressors it will be boosted up to 2,160 psi and that is what is delivered to Squamish and area. (By comparison, the pressure in a vehicle tire is in the range of 32 psi.)
"That is what Woodfibre will probably end up seeing," said Brent Masuch, the operations manager for coastal compression, who led the Coquitlam tour.
The compressor station is self-supported in that it runs on its own natural gas.
Though the final design is not complete for Mount Mulligan, it will likely have three compressor units, Marshall said.
"If it is not heated, there could be corrosion on the fuel nozzles and stuff like that," said Masuch.