Before and after: how pipeline companies leave the land they cross (part 1)

This is the first post in our reclamation series, where we are discussing what happens to the land after a pipeline construction project is completed. This week we’re outlining what reclamation is and what the overall process looks like.

Constructing a pipeline, like building a road, requires an area of land to be disturbed. But unlike road construction, after the pipeline is buried, the land can be totally reclaimed.

What is land reclamation?

Reclamation is the process of returning the land to a condition as similar to its pre-construction condition as possible. In many jurisdictions where CEPA member companies operate, reclamation is required by law, but specific regulatory requirements vary across jurisdictions.

In Alberta, the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act defines reclamation as returning the land to “equivalent land capability,” which means that it can support various land uses that are similar, but not necessarily identical, to those before the pipeline project began.

To learn more about the steps involved, we spoke with Joanne Widmer, senior environment advisor with TransCanada Corporation.

“On federally regulated pipeline projects undertaken by TransCanada, an environmental protection plan (EPP) outlines the environmental protection measures that are implemented both during and following construction,” said Joanne.

She explained that in very general terms an evaluation is conducted to understand the biophysical resources within the site’s footprint  – soils, vegetation, water resources, wildlife, etc. – and then appropriate conservation measures are established so the site can be returned to its previous condition, and to avoid or reduce potential effects to valued environmental resources.

What’s involved in reclamation?

Reclamation plans include measures to re-establish vegetation comparable to adjacent land, however companies typically do not allow for trees to grow over the buried pipeline for safety and pipeline integrity reasons

The specific measures can vary from one project to the next and from one site to the next, but they typically include:

  • Determining the environmental and land-use factors that need to be considered to ensure successful reclamation; maintaining land capability and controlling erosion
  • Implementing environmental protection measures, such as the careful removal and storage of the topsoil
  • Replacing the soil, planting and seeding to re-establish vegetation over the areas disturbed during construction
  • Restoring plant and animal habitats
  • Monitoring the reclamation progress, and adapting as necessary

Next week, we’ll share how long reclamation takes, how regulators are involved and what to know if you are a landowner.


The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 119,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2015, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 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.