Dig Safe Month: How pipeline companies engage with landowners

In 2018, eight percent of pipeline incidents were caused by external interference which refers to damage by third-parties. Unauthorized construction, development, encroachment and digging activities can all contribute to third-party damage. These types of common activities are among the biggest threats to underground infrastructure, which includes the 117,800 kilometers of pipelines operated by Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) members.  

When damage to electrical and communication infrastructure, natural gas distribution and water pipelines, and other underground infrastructure is tallied up, the annual estimated cost is more than $1 Billion in Canada. That’s why damage prevention is a top priority for all pipeline companies. And it turns out, some of the best pipeline damage prevention measures are neither complicated, costly nor technical.

April is designated Dig Safe Month by the Canadian Common Ground Alliance (CCGA). The focus is on bringing awareness to the risks of damaging underground infrastructure, like gas lines and water pipes, when disturbing the ground during renovations, landscaping, or day-to-day farming activity. This week’s blog post focuses on how pipeline companies engage with landowners as part of efforts to keep their systems safe.


Landowners a first line of defence against pipeline damage


Strong relationships with landowners on or near the pipeline right-of-way (ROW) are among the best prevention measures against pipeline damage. That’s why engagement with landowners about pipeline safety begins well before the line is constructed and continues throughout the pipeline life cycle. It usually starts with conversations about what it means to have a pipeline on your land.

“Pipeline developers and operators need to take time to find out what’s important to landowners – they need to understand their concerns and issues, because that’s where the trust begins,” notes CEPA’s Vice President, Performance, Patrick Smyth.

That trust is important because operating companies must educate landowners about where pipelines are located on their land, and the depth at which they’re buried, to lower the risk of third-party damage. Operators also rely on landowners to report suspicious activities on the ROW, such as people parking campers, driving vehicles or lighting fires.


Measures to keep pipeline safety top-of-mind


Here are some of the measures companies use to engage with landowners and communities near their pipelines:

  1. Vigorously promote call or click before you dig messages during construction and throughout the lifecycle of the pipeline. It’s not uncommon to see One Call messages (each province has their own One Call system) and emergency contact information on everything from fridge magnets, lanyards, coffee mugs, and posters, to calendars, golf balls, event banners, and many other items.
  2. Ensure landowners know who to contact in case of an emergency or to report any unusual activities. This information needs to be at their fingertips.
  3. Where possible, maintain high visibility in the area, including having offices in the local community, hiring local people, being open and approachable. Visibility in the community plays an important part in keeping pipeline safety top-of-mind for those who live nearby.
  4. Visibility often includes sponsoring community events, which provide opportunities to share safety information. Sometimes companies will also support sports teams and other activities that are important to the community.
  5. Conduct in-person visits with landowners. Some companies have visits at regular intervals throughout the year; these visits are essential for keeping safety on the radar and preventing complacency.
  6. Mail brochures, calendars, and other promotional items, with reminders and contact information. Companies often schedule advertising messages and mailouts to tie in with seasonal activities in the local area, such as hunting season, or times when people are more likely to camp or go snowmobiling.


Safety is always top of mind and CEPA members are committed to safe operations not only during the month of April. “The strong and trusting relationships that CEPA members build with landowners help to protect transmission pipelines from third-party damage year-round”, says Smyth.

Learn more about how you can ‘dig safe’: