The midstream oil and gas industry links upstream activities (getting the oil and gas out of the ground) with the downstream activities (the additional processing, marketing and distribution of final oil and gas products). The midstream industry gathers, processes, stores, markets and transports oil and byproducts, natural gas and natural gas liquids. Midstream also includes the sales and marketing of refined oil and gas products to downstream wholesalers, industrial and commercial companies.
In Canada, transmission pipeline companies are a major part of the midstream industry, along with oil sands upgrading, natural gas processing and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities.
Several methods of transportation are used to move oil and gas to markets all across Canada. There is a complex system of pipelines, ships, railways and trucks to get oil and gas to-and-from refineries, upgraders and processing plants, and ultimately to the end-users. Canadian natural gas and oil products are transported by pipelines 97% of the time. However, transporting crude oil by rail or truck is typically more economically viable for small volumes over shorter distances or getting product to hard-to-reach communities.
The railroad network throughout Canada for instance has rail lines running to, or close to, most refinery and shipping terminal destinations
Canada has more than 800,000 kilometres of pipeline transporting oil and gas, mostly underground – enough to circle the earth up to 20 times!
Gathering pipelines get oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids short distances, from the field to oil batteries or natural gas processing plants. Feeder pipelines transport these products from storage tanks and processing facilities to the long-distance haulers – large transmission pipelines. Transmission pipelines carry natural gas, natural gas liquids, oil and refined products long distances – including across borders. Distribution pipelines are the smallest and they’re used to get natural gas to homes and businesses.
Pipelines vary from the size of a dime (12.7 millimetres) to the size of a large bale of hay (1,212 millimetres).
Jobs in the pipeline sub-sector are equally diverse. You could work in the field laying pipe, inspecting pipeline seals or talking to community members about a proposed pipeline route. Or you could work in an office managing pipeline systems or in a lab developing new pipeline technologies. Visit Career Explorer, our career planning tool, to find a career that suits you.
Upgraders and Natural Gas Processing Plants
An upgrader is a facility that upgrades bitumen (extra heavy oil) into synthetic crude oil so that it is easier to transport to an oil refinery. Upgraders are typically located close to where oil sands mines operate. Traditionally, oil sands have been upgraded before being transported and sold to refineries, however, as refineries have improved there’s less of a demand for stand-alone bitumen upgrading.
The natural gas that comes out of the ground is typically a mixture of natural gas liquids – methane, ethane, propane, butane and pentanes – as well as water vapour, hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and other gases. Whereas the natural gas used by homes and businesses is almost entirely methane.
A processing plant removes the natural gas liquids and other substances from the gas stream.
Liquefied Natural Gas Facilities
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities convert natural gas into liquid by cooling the gas to about -162 degrees Celcius. In a liquefied state, LNG takes up 1/600th of the volume of natural gas in its gaseous state. This makes it more efficient to transport in special designed cryogenic carriers to overseas markets. When it reaches its destination, the LNG is regasified.
Canada’s LNG market is just beginning. Check out Career Explorer, our career planning tool to see some of the roles.