Eyes in the air and on the ground: how patrollers prevent pipeline damage

In our third post for Dig Safe Awareness Month, we look at how patrollers help prevent damage to pipelines from unauthorized digging.

People who patrol the pipeline right-of-way are part of the pipeline protection teams who work to reduce third-party damage to pipelines from unauthorized activities.

Aerial patrollers, for instance, fly the rights-of-way in planes or helicopters to ensure that the pipeline is secure and no unauthorized activity is taking place. Ground patrollers, similarly, keep an eye on more densely populated areas, looking for unapproved activity and interacting with landowners and homeowners.

Why pipelines are patrolled

Andrew Mark, manager of damage prevention and public awareness at Kinder Morgan Canada, explained that while patrolling helps prevent accidental damage to pipelines – monitoring for unauthorized activity is just one reason for pipeline patrols.

“Each pipeline company has their own individual monitoring program that includes something like air patrol,” he said. “We look for [ways to prevent] damage along with other components such as leak detection, security concerns, land use changes, right-of-way signage, vegetation management and much more,” Andrew said.

Patrolling is also an important part of the pipeline operator’s public awareness program. It provides them with intelligence on where information sessions are necessary – for instance, where land use or population densities have changed.

Monitoring for unauthorized digging

While air patrol is the most effective method to monitor the entire right-of-way, ground patrols are most effective in areas of the greatest activity.

“Where we receive the greatest number of one-call notifications, we conduct ground patrols,” said Andrew. “Those areas also tend to be where we are most likely to discover people digging or conducting a ground disturbance without proper consent. The ground patrols are able to put a stop to unauthorized digging, but they also act as a liaison between the pipeline and the digging community or landowners, allowing us to further extend our educational activities.”

Discovering unauthorized digging

When a ground patroller discovers someone digging without the proper consent, they will stop the work immediately and confirm that the pipeline is safe. The landowner or other party will then be instructed to request a one-call notification to mark all services before they resume their project.

When an aerial patroller discovers someone digging without consent, they will connect with the pipeline protection team on the ground, who will respond to the observations.

“Depending on the seriousness of the observation, patrollers have the authority to order the pipeline shut down,” said Andrew.

If the digging was in close proximity to the pipeline, it may be necessary to dig it up and investigate to confirm whether it was contacted or impacted in any way by the activities.

How effective is pipeline patrolling? One example:

In 2016, Kinder Morgan Canada patrolled over 52,991 kms of pipeline – with the entire pipeline being patrolled at least 26 times by air. “The pipeline in the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver was patrolled 61 times by air, with ground patrols monitoring activity every business day,” Andrew added.

The following chart shows the patrolling methods used to monitor for unauthorized digging activities by Kinder Morgan in 2016:

patrolling for unauthorized diggingFor more statistics on unauthorized digging, check out the National Energy Board’s Safety and Environmental Performance Dashboard.

Stay tuned for next week when we explain why it’s important for everyone to click before they dig. In the meantime, check out earlier posts in our Dig Safe Awareness Month series: