As the natural gas pipeline system in Western Canada expands northward, it traverses the discontinuous permafrost zone. As the ground temperature of the frozen soil in this zone is just below freezing, it can be expected that within the design life of a pipeline the permafrost adjacent to it will melt due to the disturbance of the insulating cover by construction activities. Differential settlement at the thawing frozen/unfrozen soil interfaces gives rise to pipeline strain. Based on the calculated settlement and resulting strain level, a cost effective mechanical or civil design solution can be selected to mitigate the differential settlement problem. Since these design solutions can be costly, it is desirable to combine them with a pipeline route that traverses the least amount of discontinuous permafrost terrain while minimizing the overall length of the pipeline.

This paper will detail the framework utilized to select the routing for a package of pipeline projects in northwestern Alberta. The process began with a review of the state of the art in permafrost engineering in order to benefit from past experiences. Airphoto interpretation and terrain mapping were performed for potential pipeline corridors. Preliminary routing options through the corridors were chosen from this mapping information that minimized both pipeline length and amount of permafrost terrain traversed. The next step was to collect field data for each route that would determine the extent and characteristics of the permafrost. Essentially two sets of field data were collected: geophysical mapping of representative sections of each terrain type and physical sampling of the permafrost. Boreholes were located following field interpretation of the geophysical data to ensure they were optimally located to help in calibration of the geophysical data. Permafrost samples were tested in the laboratory for thaw settlement. Anticipated thaw settlements were used to estimate pipe strain levels. This information was then extrapolated for the entire proposed pipeline route and used to finalize both the pipeline route and the differential settlement design options. Monitoring sites will be instrumented to obtain data on the longer term performance of the pipeline, as well as for assessing permafrost degradation effects on the right-of-way such as settlement and impact on drainage patterns.

It is believed that the increased front end effort will result in lower operating costs and an overall reduced life-cycle cost. This basic design methodology can be applied to any project that traverses discontinuous permafrost terrain.

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