Operation resumed on Tuesday for Enbridge’s Line 21 pipeline, clearing the way for renewed oil production in Norman Wells.

The pipeline was shut down in November 2016 as a precautionary measure due to concerns about slope stability in the area where the pipeline crossed the Mackenzie River.

In January, the National Energy Board approved repair plans. In June, Enbridge began drilling underneath the river to replace a 2.5-km section of pipe approximately 10 km east of Fort Simpson.

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Jesse Semko, spokesperson for Enbridge, said that following “the necessary rigorous safety inspections and testing of the line,” the pipeline is once again able to transport oil 869 km from Norman Wells to Zama, AB.

Imperial Oil ‘plans to restart’

“We’re planning to restart production at the Norman Wells operation now that the pipeline has successfully returned to service,” said Lisa Schmidt, an Imperial Oil spokesperson.

“There are a number of facilities that had been temporarily shut in and suspended, so we are working through plans to restart all of the different facilities,” she said, although she was unable to provide any specifics as to when this will be completed and when production will resume.

“We’ve said that Norman Wells is expected to produce oil for years to come,” added Schmidt.

Semko said the pipeline segment which was at risk has been decommissioned, and indicated slope instability is no longer a threat. However, Enbridge will continue to monitor slope movement.

“The new pipeline is buried deep beneath the river. It’s installed in such a way that it won’t pose any problems moving forward,” he explained.

An Enbridge newsletter reported the original pipeline was located just four metres under the river, while the new section of pipeline is buried 140 metres beneath the riverbed.

“We monitor Line 21 on a 24/7 basis – checking pipeline flows, temperature, and pressure,” Semko continued, adding Enbridge brings in third-party geologists to perform annual aerial and foot patrols of the line.

Local labour

As Line 21 is the only way to export oil out of Norman Wells, Imperial Oil has also faced repercussions following the closure.

Cabin Radio reported in January that around 110 people were employed or contracted in Norman Wells by the oil company. Recently, mayoral candidates have indicated the extended closure forced families to move away from the community.

Meanwhile, in Fort Simpson, the repair project created some jobs.

“Throughout the project itself we’ve prioritized the hiring of local labour and the procurement of services from local businesses,” said Semko, listing work carried out by local contractors such as tree clearing and wildlife monitoring.

The $53 million project employed around 120 people, although not all jobs were filled locally.