From squirrels to rare mosses: What’s involved in planning for reclamation, part 1

In an earlier post on this blog, we explained that, when pipeline companies build a pipeline, they work hard to leave the land in a state as close as possible to its pre-construction condition. In this two-part series, we’re going to explore that process first-hand, by learning about Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain Anchor Loop project.

Building a pipeline through a National Park

The Trans Mountain Anchor Loop project involved installing a 160 km pipeline from Hinton, Alberta to Hargreaves, B.C., and was completed in 2008. The pipeline runs adjacent to the existing Trans Mountain pipeline for 60 per cent of the route, and parallels other linear disturbances such as the highway and railways for another 39.5 per cent of the route, traversing Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park. The project won an Alberta Emerald Award for outstanding environmental leadership and achievement.

We spoke with Greg Toth, Anchor Loop project director, to learn more about the extent to which reclamation planning and activities played a part in this project:

Q: What particular challenges or considerations for reclamation were identified in your environmental assessment for the Anchor Loop project?

Greg: The project was particularly sensitive, in part because it crosses two parks, and is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site. As with all projects, it was important to us to ensure that our activities would exceed all regulatory requirements. As part of our initial environmental assessment we conducted many surveys which were new at the time, but which are now considered standard, including:

  • Individual surveys on different types of wildlife, including invertebrates, amphibians, grizzly bears and black bears
  • A wetland function assessment, as a baseline to determine potential effects on this highly critical habitat
  • A comprehensive nonvascular plant (such as moss) survey
  • A forest health assessment
  • Watercourse crossing assessments

In addition to this, a variety of models and assessment methods were used to help us evaluate the potential cumulative effects of the project.

Q: Was there anything unusual, such as rare wildlife or plants that had to be protected during the process?

Greg: Yes, we found several species of rare lichens on rock outcrops that were created when the old Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was built. We also encountered the endangered Haller’s apple moss, which was protected with different measures including artificial shading and misting used to preserve this species.

Where unique habitats or vegetation were discovered, we narrowed the right-of-way, if possible, to avoid them.

If that wasn’t possible, rare plants were salvaged and transplanted off the right-of-way. Columbian ground squirrels with burrows in the construction right-of-way were captured and released in similar habitats nearby, and temporary bridges were placed over the trenches for bighorn sheep to cross.

Q: Were there any particular steps taken during the construction to facilitate reclamation efforts?

Greg: One particular concern was to stop non-native, invasive weeds from taking over during the construction process. We worked with Parks Canada and BC Parks to identify areas where those non-native plant species should be addressed, which consisted of spraying, mowing and hand weeding.

We also collected native plant materials and seeds to grow and propagate for reclamation following construction. We built two full-size greenhouses to propagate over 220,000 plants to be planted on the right-of-way, with manual irrigation over the course of three years.

During the construction, the upper topsoil layer was carefully set aside and stored, so that it could be replaced without damaging its natural make-up. The native sod was also preserved for re-use.

Stay tuned next week when we’ll learn more about the reclamation process itself, and see the final results. In the meantime, you can learn more about pipeline reclamation in these earlier posts:

Is there anything you’d like to know about Canada’s transmission pipelines? Ask us here in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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.