The Keystone Pipeline’s GIS Connection

The Keystone Pipeline’s GIS Connection

The Keystone Pipeline Project has been a hotly debated project that will carry crude oil from northeastern Alberta, Canada, to several locations in the United States by 2013. While the political and environmental aspects have been well covered, the use of GIS technology has been minimally discussed.

But, the fact GIS technology is used to build the 2,000-plus mile, $12 billion pipeline shows there is a great demand for college graduates with GIS degrees.

For example, did you know that federal regulatory requirements under the Clean Water Act mandate any new pipeline or right-of-way must be surveyed and mapped to evaluate potential adverse effects? Considering the total miles for U.S. pipelines increased from 131,000 in 2005 to 149,000 in 2009, a GIS degree is a safe bet for the ever-growing oil and gas industry. {Click here for the exact U.S. figures for total pipeline and rights-of-way miles.}

That means the oil business needs a lot more GIS professionals.

The Keystone GIS Project

For the Keystone Pipeline Project, GIS technology was used to track the wetlands, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and riparian areas. Since the Keystone Pipeline Project crosses three USACE districts, including the Omaha, Kansas City, and Tulsa districts, each district had different survey requirements.

According to a March 2007 report, the project began with a review of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps, National Wetland Inventory (NWI) maps, available soil surveys and 2005 aerial photographs pertaining to the proposed route. Remote sensors, analytics software and Esri’s ArcGIS would be used to capture Keystone.

According to Esri’s Summer 2011 newsletter, TransCanada officials even used GIS technology to procure bids. They supplied hundreds of contractors with superior visual information so bids could be provided more quickly and without costly site travel.

GIS technology was also used to develop the third Environmental Impact Statement that the U.S. Department of State has issued on Keystone XL since the review process began in 2008. Although no credit was given to GIS technology in the press conference, TransCanada publicly noted that the proposed route is the shortest and would disturb the least amount of land and water bodies resulting in reduced environmental impacts and that alternative routes were proven to have higher corrosion rates during pipeline transportation.

In fact, in almost every report or study published about Keystone, it’s safe to say that the author likely used GIS technology to come to his or her conclusions. Other than walking every mile on the route, there’s just no way they could come to the best conclusions without the technology.

But that should come as no surprise to anybody in the oil and gas business. Since the technology has been available, they have been using GIS. And they will for a long time.