3 reasons why pipeline construction slows down in the spring

With spring in the air, you might assume that the construction companies working with CEPA members are getting ready to ramp up summer pipeline construction projects. In fact, the opposite is true—a lot of pipeline construction is completed in the dead of winter.

Adam Reed, Environmental Manager for pipeline construction contractor Michels Canada, says winter is the best season to get the bulk of the work done, to avoid negative impacts to the environment.

“Spring thaw is not the time for us here in Canada that you want to be doing the bulk of construction,” said Reed. “Mainly because of our environmental work windows, but also because of erosion control and other factors that come into play.”

Here are three reasons why Reed says the bulk of the work slows or stops in the spring:

  1. Birds and species at risk. Pipeline construction companies clear pipeline rights of way during the winter to avoid disrupting migratory birds, their eggs and nests, along with other species at risk. Reed says there are windows of time, depending on location and habitat types, when construction activities are limited or restricted.


If we clear within that window, we need to have experts searching for breeding bird nests. If any are found, it impacts the construction schedule,” said Reed. “So, we schedule our construction clearing for the most part outside that window, which would be in the winter, to avoid that kind of impact.”

  1. Water versus ice. When working around bodies of water such as creeks and wetlands, Reed says pipeline construction companies use the seasons to their advantage. In the winter, water bodies are often frozen to the bottom or completely dry, so companies have a reduced risk of impacts to fish and other species. Also, in the spring or summer runoff from major rains and the spring melt create concerns around erosion and movement of sediments into streams and sensitive areas. By working in these areas when everything is frozen, it minimizes those concerns and lessens the impacts on the bed and banks.


  1. Snow bridges and frost packing. Winter provides a unique solution for companies that need to build a road or crossing over a sensitive area such as a creek. Rather than installing a culvert or a bridge and impacting the bed or banks, they simply fill the area with snow and freeze it in. Reed says it’s called a snow fill.


“Because the drainage itself isn’t flowing – it’s frozen to bottom or dry completely – rather than having more impact, we can fill it with snow, freeze it in and use that as our access across these areas,” said Reed.

Other more obvious reasons for working in the winter include avoiding road bans that come into play during spring breakup and the simple fact that it’s extremely messy and muddy to work on site during the melt. Once the ground is frozen it has stabilized otherwise soft and wet areas, so the large and heavy equipment can easily work without rutting and mixing soil layers.

Preparing for spring

As the winter construction season comes to an end, Reed says the focus is on preparing sites for the spring melt. After the area has been cleared and the pipe is in the ground, they fill the ditch back in. Since the topsoil will still be frozen and chunky, it is often left until after everything thaws and can be smoothed out. When conditions allow, they’ll get back to the site to finish everything off.

“That would include pulling the topsoil back over, doing any planting that needs to be done, determining if there are other erosion measures that need to be put in place, and seeding the right of way,” said Reed.

CEPA members are committed to environmental protection, which is why these measures are in place to during all aspects of pipeline construction. Environmental protection is a top priority for companies that build, operate and maintain Canada’s pipelines.