How pipeline companies are taking action against a Canadian crop killer (part 1)

With over 115,000 kilometres of transmission pipelines in Canada, it’s likely that some will cross farmland. And that’s a responsibility that pipeline operators take very seriously.

In previous posts, we discussed how pipeline operators protect soil during construction, and mitigate impacts to agricultural land, but this week we’re taking a look at a recent and serious threat to farmers’ livelihoods: club root.

Club root is a fungal disease that affects canola crops, causing swelling or lesions to form on the roots. It can kill a significant proportion of a crop, and once a field is infested there is no cost-effective way to remove it. Changing the entire crop is the only answer.

Club Root affecting pipelines

A club root gall (lesion) on canola. Image courtesy of Krista Zuzak, University of Alberta

What does club root have to do with pipelines?

This soil borne fungus spreads when soil is moved from an infected to an uninfected area – either during farming operations, soil handling, land excavation, or on machinery. That means that anyone moving soil or digging on farmland has a role to play in stopping the spread.

The pipeline industry recognizes the severity of the problem, and they are taking active measures to ensure that they don’t contribute to the spread of the disease during construction, integrity digs or other maintenance activities. To learn more about club root and the pipeline industry, we spoke with Dave Kerr, principal, and oil and gas market sector leader, at Golder Associates. Golder provides environmental consulting, design and construction services to energy organizations across the world.

Q: Why are pipeline companies concerned about club root?

Kerr: “Pipeline companies, particularly in the last two to three years, have recognized that there’s a concern around pipeline construction projects, potentially contributing to the spread of club root. Right now they’re looking at it and saying, from a risk management perspective, they need to be actively involved in solutions to prevent their industry from spreading club root.”

Q: Have any pipeline companies been known to spread club root?

Kerr: “Not to my knowledge. But it’s very tough to allocate responsibility because there are so many pathways for it to transfer. It can stay dormant in the soil for a long time, and can survive harsh winters, particularly on the Prairies. It typically thrives in lowland wet areas or poorly drained areas, and if these areas are adjacent to cropland then that becomes a potential source of infection. It can spread through drainage or spring runoff or heavy rain events. It can also transfer through wind erosion as another means of soil transfer.”

Club Root was added to Alberta’s Agricultural Pest Act in 2007, and pipeline companies are actively working to develop best practices and other measures to ensure that their operations don’t contribute to the spread.

Stay tuned: next week we’ll learn more about those measures, and the innovations and technologies being used in the process.


The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 117,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2014, 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.