Efficiency and ELSA: Supporting the energy industry with high-tech pipeline scheduling

Digital data helps deliver more Canadian crude to market (System Optimization Series, Part 1 of 3)

The life of a pipeline scheduler means fielding constant streams of information—all of them pertinent.

And up until 2017, that information was processed with . . .

“Stacks of paper,” says Josh Martin, an Integrated Projects Business Lead within Enbridge’s Liquids Pipelines group.

“Schedulers have multiple inputs to factor into every decision they make, when it comes to scheduling the oil that’s going to move through our pipelines. Feeder systems, refineries, capacities, integrity of the lines, the volume currently in tanks, shipper requests, power consumption—it just goes on and on,” says Martin.

“It’s really quite challenging to have all that information at your fingertips. And before ELSA, the old method was to look through stacks of paper, use a highlighter on certain lines of data, and compare for overlaps,” he adds. “Often it was done using with information gathered after the fact, which wasn’t ideal.”

Enter ELSA—the Enbridge Liquids Scheduling Application—which was launched by Enbridge in early 2017 to streamline the Liquids Pipelines scheduling process.

This proprietary application is one of several initiatives that Enbridge has taken in recent years to optimize our pipeline network and support the energy industry by getting Canadian crude oil to market—and, in doing so, help Canadians reap the benefits of a natural resources economy.

ELSA is now used by Enbridge’s team of 60 pipeline schedulers. It gathers and processes all the factors at play, presents crude oil movement data in a user-friendly format, as close to real-time as possible, and allows schedulers to respond quicker to supply or demand disruptions.

ELSA has also been pivotal to Enbridge’s capacity optimization efforts on our Mainline pipeline system, which is the longest and most complex crude oil and liquids network in the world. Capacity optimization has accounted for 100,000 of the extra 450,000 barrels per day of Canadian crude that we now deliver to market, compared to 2015—and ELSA has been a centerpiece of those optimization efforts.

“A pipeline scheduler needs to be super-organized, and also a quick-thinking problem solver—because that’s what you’re doing all day, as you move crude from A to B as efficiently as possible,” notes Trent Tetzlaff, a manager of supply and scheduling in Enbridge’s Liquids Pipeline group.

“ELSA itself is not optimizing our system. It’s not making decisions for schedulers. But it’s allowing us to be proactive, instead of reactive—making better decisions, much faster. Our schedulers are now analyzing data rather than sorting data, and making the decisions they should be.”

Enbridge has also taken several other steps to boost the efficiency and throughput of our system, by examining factors that include:

  • Overall system capacity;
  • Maintenance aligned with customer maintenance;
  • Throughput or capacity by commodity/crude slate; and
  • Facility interconnection capabilities.

“Last August, we concentrated more than 80 planned maintenance jobs on one of our lines into one 24-hour period. That saved the industry well over a million barrels of throughput, in comparison to the way these jobs were executed in the past. That took effort, focus and synchronization across the organization—and ELSA was the lynchpin in safely and efficiently planning the execution,” says Tetzlaff.

“In the past five or six years, our system has become much more complex—and at the same time, we’re moving more volume every year,” says Tetzlaff. “That gives you some idea of how successful this system optimization program has been.”