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Western Canada again looks at slurry pipelines

Slurry pipelining is in the news once again. As conventional ground transportation costs continue to rise, mostly because of higher fuel costs, the idea of packing coal, grain, sulfur, and many other commodities into pipelines and flushing them along with water or crude oil may be one whose time is fast approaching.

Several slurry-pipeline proposals are alive and well in western Canada.

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Admittedly, none of them for this area have yet gone past the study and model stage.

The technology is available and said to be workable. The only hurdle, the overall higher cost when compared with railways, may be about to disapper. Or so the experts say.

Pulverized coal carried in a pipeline by water is the choice means of transportation for a vast thermal power generating plant tentatively suggested for southern Alberta.

The coal would come for the rich seams of the Rockies farther north, while the water would be pure glacier juice.

The beauty of such a proposal is that in this instance, as well as in virtually all slurry-pipeline applications, you can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

In this case, while moving the primary stuff, coal, to where it's needed, you are also delivering water to drought- prone southern Alberta, both commodities in the same pipeline.

In another project, sulfur, the bright yellow stuff extracted from Alberta natural gas, would be flushed down a pipe by crude oil pumped from nearby fields. The sulfur has to get to tidewater in order to be shipped abroad, and the west coast is severely oil deficient.

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What's more, the railways winding through the mountains simply cannot carry more of the bulk commodities without making deliveries even more protracted.

so the sulfur-and-oil-pipeline combination is regarded as likely to be a winner someday.

The railways have not been eager for slurry pipelines for an obvious reason. They would prefer to move the goods themselves.

In fact, there have been some unkind suggestions that the railways had become partners in slurry study projects only to buy up the rights and thus frustrate their development. Others say that may have been plausible in the long-past halycon days of "cheap" transportation, but no more.

The latest proposal in slurry pipelining involves natural gas as the carrying agent and finely powdered coal. A recent report on western Canada's coal resources by a nonprofit research organization recommended that this unique transportation system be investigated.

Western Canadian natural gas, for example, might be carrying powdered coal from the same area to the same destinations in Ontario.

One of the oldest complaints of western Canada, particularly the prairie provinces, has concerned the inadequacy of transportation for its products. Now some people are saying that ne wfangled slurry pipelines could be part of the solution.

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