April is Safe Digging Awareness Month – bringing attention to the important issue of safe digging practices around pipelines and other underground infrastructure. This month’s blogs highlight some of the ways CEPA members work with the public and different industries to keep their pipelines and the public safe.
Working around pipelines and other underground utilities carries a degree of risk – especially if you don’t know where they are. Hitting a transmission pipeline can have serious consequences for the environment, and in extreme cases, can lead to injury or death.
That’s why pipeline companies take damage prevention very seriously. Every year, millions of dollars are spent on awareness campaigns to remind companies, contractors and homeowners to call or click before they dig. State-of-the-art technology is used to closely monitor pipelines from the ground and sky to catch anyone who may be digging without permission.
This surveillance is what recently led to a unique learning opportunity and, ultimately, a success story in Quebec. Trans-Northern Pipelines Inc. (TNPI), which operates transmission pipelines in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, noticed contractors of the province’s utility company, Hydro-Québec, were working along TNPI’s pipeline route without permission. Most of the time, the work involved contractors installing power poles, which are dug deep into the ground.
Hydro-Québec is a Crown Corporation responsible for the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity within the province. The organization’s construction and maintenance activities to sustain its vast network of below and above-ground distribution lines often require digging and excavation. As an owner of buried infrastructure and a member of Québec’s damage prevention centre, Info-Excavation, Hydro-Québec strongly encourages anyone undertaking any type of excavation to be aware of what’s below ground to avoid what can be serious consequences of inadvertently striking buried assets. While there are no provincial laws stating workers must call or click before they dig in Quebec, there are federal regulations that cover the large, interprovincial transmission pipelines.
TNPI decided to take quick action and meet with the utility company’s leadership. A series of conversations with both Hydro-Québec and its contractors led to Hydro-Québec changing its internal policies. In addition to executing an employee awareness program, Hydro-Québec has mandated that all contractors call Quebec’s one-call system Info-Excavation before breaking ground.
“It was a great success because – from an operator’s perspective – we saw that we were trending in a negative way and so we took initiative to address it locally,” said Andrew Mark, Manager, Land and Damage Prevention, TNPI. “And the major utility company was willing to listen and engage us and then implement changes.”
Since the changes were made, Mark says TNPI has not recorded any unauthorized activities related to work activities by the provincial utility company along its pipeline – a significant step forward in addressing damage prevention and worker safety.
“It shows a successful, proactive approach to addressing damage-related risks to the pipeline from an education perspective and a collaborative approach with stakeholders,” said Mark. “It speaks to our mantra that damage prevention is a shared responsibility.”
A shared responsibility to make sure everyone first understands the rules, and then follows them. It’s why Canada’s transmission pipeline companies work together on important issues like safety and damage prevention. Members of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) work together, sharing their experiences, like the one in Quebec, to learn from them and make continuous improvements as an industry.
The goal is to reach zero incidents, which requires collaboration both within the industry and with partners. CEPA members will continue to pursue that goal, while protecting the public, the environment and their pipelines.
Special thanks to Andrew Mark, Manager of Land and Damage Prevention, Trans-Northern Pipelines Inc.; TNPI Field Services Maintenance (Quebec); and Hydro-Québec for their contributions to this article.