Agriculture and pipelines: Protecting soil during construction

This post is part two in CEPA’s “Agriculture and Pipeline” series. Part one was about the steps pipeline companies take to protect agricultural land when planning, building and operating pipelines.

Any farmer will tell you that good soil is instrumental to a quality crop. Topsoil, for example, contains valuable nutrients that plants need to grow. When companies build pipelines that cross farmland, they have a responsibility to ensure pipeline construction does not impact the quality of the soil.

“Pipeline companies must ensure that impacts to agricultural operations are minimized by returning lands to equivalent capability following construction,” explained Bernard Perron, vice president of project development with Inter Pipeline Ltd.

“Returning lands to equivalent capability” simply means companies need to ensure farmland is just as productive after pipeline construction as it was before construction. Preserving soil quality is a key way to do this. Here are some of the ways pipeline companies work to protect the integrity of soils:

Getting the lay of the land: Soil surveys

Soil surveys play an important role in soil conservation because they help identify which soils to avoid when planning a pipeline route.

“Sensitive, fine-textured soils and soils that are imperfectly drained are especially susceptible to compaction and may be avoided during the route selection phase,” said Perron, who has over 23 years of experience with pipeline projects.

Soil surveys also identify soil types and topsoil depths, explained Perron. This information is important when planning construction activities.

The nitty gritty: Separating soils during construction

When pipeline construction begins, companies remove and store the topsoil and subsoils separately. These soils are replaced once the pipeline is installed. The soil survey helps companies know the depth of the topsoil layer.

“Average topsoil depths are recorded on a project’s construction and environmental alignment sheets,” said Perron. “This information then guides topsoil stripping activities during the initial construction and is utilized during the operation phase if a segment of pipeline needs to be exposed for maintenance purposes.”

Perron also explained that cleanup and reclamation efforts (such as re-seeding and re-contouring) begin immediately after pipeline construction.

“Generally within a year after construction, reclamation has been completed. Monitoring is then conducted at regular intervals to ensure reclamation success,” he said.

Who makes sure pipeline companies protect land and soil?

Just like all aspects of the pipeline process in Canada, soil conservation and reclamation activities are regulated by government.

“Both the federal and provincial regulators work with numerous provincial and federal agencies, as well as with the pipeline industry, to ensure agricultural lands are well protected and maintained during all phases of pipeline construction and operations,” said Perron.

Having a well regulated pipeline system is important, but the Canadian pipeline industry wants to go beyond compliance. To do this, pipeline companies are working together to build strong relationships with landowners and to continuously improve pipeline performance and safety.

Want to learn more about pipelines, landowners and regulations? Check out these resources:

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2012, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.