5 basic steps to ‘dig safe’

Those in the pipeline industry may recall a December 2017 incident in which a father and son from Northern Illinois were tragically killed when their farming equipment accidentally struck a gas pipeline. Preventing any incident is a top priority for organizations with underground infrastructure, whether it’s buried electrical cable or gas pipelines.

Although injury caused by damage to underground infrastructure is rare in Canada, statistics show 11,383 damage incidents in 2017 – that’s 45 per work day. The cost? More than $1 billion a year.

April is designated Dig Safe Month by the Canadian Common Ground Alliance (CCGA). The focus is on building awareness of the risks of damaging underground infrastructure when disturbing the ground during renovations, landscaping or day-to-day farming activity.

To coincide with Dig Safe Month, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) launched an information brochure Preventing Damage to Pipelines During Agricultural ActivitiesIts purpose is to share knowledge about safe digging with operators in the agricultural industry. In today’s About Pipelines blog, we share the highlights.


Everyone has a role in safe digging


Some of the biggest threats to pipeline safety are unauthorized construction, development, encroachment and digging activities. CEPA’s agricultural activities brochure stresses that everyone, including members of the public, has a role in preventing damage to underground infrastructure.

On every pipeline right-of-way, there’s a ‘prescribed’ area set by the regulator that extends 30 metres (100 feet) on both sides of the pipeline centre line. Anyone planning to disturb the ground within that area must first contact their provincial One-Call Centre to make a locate request. Landowners can also get written consent directly from the pipeline company before digging near a pipeline.

underground pipeline diagram


What does this mean for farmers?


The examples below show how regulators, such as the National Energy Board (NEB), classify agricultural and non-agricultural activities, and outlines reporting requirements for each. A more detailed list is available on page 3 of the brochure.

  • Agricultural activities include preparation of soil beds to facilitate seeding to a depth of 450 millimetres (18 inches) – without the removal of cover, manure spreading, tillage, plowing, feeding and caring of animals.
    • For those day-to-day agricultural activities, farmers only require consent from the pipeline company if the activity does not meet specific conditions provided for in Section 13 of the NEB’s Damage Prevention Regulations.
  • Non-agricultural activities include land levelling, drainage tiling, installation of dugouts or fences, and any removal of cover, including manure, as well as the use of industrial heavy equipment or machinery specifically designed for construction or excavation.
    • All non-agricultural activities require a one-call or locate request. Pipeline companies may provide written consent to landowners for non-agricultural activities. These agreements are between individual companies and landowners, and they may be specific to the location.


Five basic steps to safe digging


  1. Include time for approvals when planning construction or ground disturbance activities.
  2. Always click or call before you dig to place a locate request.
  3. Be on site when the pipeline is located to ensure you know what the locate markings mean.
  4. Follow the pipeline company’s safety measures and the instructions of the onsite pipeline company representative; and
  5. Obtain the consent of the pipeline company before crossing a pipeline with a vehicle or other mobile equipment.


CEPA member companies work to build strong and constructive relationships with landowners. This engagement helps protect underground infrastructure from the risks of external interference. In doing so, they’re also careful not to place an additional burden on landowners – beyond the regulatory requirements.

Next week, in part three of this blog series, we’ll look at the steps pipeline companies take to engage with landowners to prevent damage to underground infrastructure.