Canada’s underground world: 4 things you need to know

Pipeline gas marker in a field.If you ever watched Fraggle Rock, the idea of a world literally underground is nothing new. Although Fraggles and Doozers are yet to be discovered in Canada, there is a vast world just below our feet. That world is made up of thousands of kilometers of infrastructure that we use every day.

“The infrastructure we have in the ground is astronomical. We have everything from oil and gas to electrical to traffic lights to telecommunications, which is our 911 system here, and so many other things people take for granted that run the world we live in,” explained Dr. Dave Baspaly, chair of the Canadian Common Ground Alliance, an organization that works to prevent damage to these critical networks.

Canada recently developed a national standard for damage prevention and protection of underground infrastructure, so it’s a great time to tell you what Canada’s underground world looks like and what you can do to keep it safe.

What you need to know about Canada’s underground world

1. It’s vast, critical and doesn’t just include pipelines

Think of your average morning: wake up in a warm house, turn on the lights, wash your face, watch the news . . . The networks powering all these activities are likely underground.

Our members alone operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of oil and gas transmission pipelines in Canada, but there are many other types of underground infrastructure as well including electrical, water and sewage, telecommunications and other oil and gas pipelines. These systems toil away unseen to keep our world running.

2. You’re part of it

You need this critical infrastructure to power your life, but you also play a role in keeping it safe. If you break ground – whether you’re a construction worker or just an average Joe planting a tree – you could hit a line and disrupt service or hurt yourself, the public or the environment. 

Did you know damage by third-party excavation around pipelines is one of the most common causes of pipeline damage?

3. Canada has a national standard to protect underground infrastructure

The good news is Canada has taken a big step forward in protecting our underground world and the public. CSA Group recently published its first national standard on damage prevention and protection of underground infrastructure (CSA Z247).

“The most important aspect is that it’s a consistent, blanket standard. It covers all underground infrastructure,” explained Baspaly, whose organization worked with CSA Group and a host of industries and stakeholders to come up with a common damage prevention process for the entire country.

Click before you dig symbolThe standard gives operators and the public one clear set of best practices for keeping Canada’s underground networks safe.

So, what does it say you need to do before disturbing the ground? Basically, you should always call or click before you dig to get underground infrastructure located.

4. Everyone has a responsibility to protect it

Baspaly explained that having a national standard helps move the country towards a culture of safety when it comes to protecting underground infrastructure. He hopes attitudes around unsafe digging will change just as they did with drunk driving, which was once considered “no big deal” but is now known to be reckless and dangerous.

“What we want to see around underground infrastructure is that – from the operator to the regulator to the general public – everybody is aware that you just don’t dig without calling (or clicking) before you dig,” he said.

Click before you dig! CEPA safe dig infographic.

Check out this infographic to find out how you can keep underground infrastructure safe.

To learn more about the role you play in protecting underground infrastructure, visit the Canadian Common Ground Alliance website or ask us your questions on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

To locate underground infrastructure before starting a project, click here.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 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.