Important safety tips if you’re digging near a pipeline

If you’re planning to garden, plant trees, install fences or do any land disturbance, this blog post is for you. Across our vast country, Canadians rely on energy pipelines and other underground infrastructure for the quality of life we’ve grown accustomed to in a modern world.

Oil, gas, sewer and water pipelines, as well as electricity and communication cables, are buried anywhere from a half-metre to several metres below ground. They operate reliably, safely and silently day after day. But these vital structures are vulnerable to third-party damage (e.g. unintended damage caused by digging activities like agriculture and gardening), which can carry high financial and human costs.

To coincide with the beginning of the spring season, the Canadian Common Ground Alliance’s (CCGA) ‘Dig Safe Month’ campaign calls attention to the risks of damaging underground infrastructure when disturbing the ground. To wrap up our four-part blog series on safe digging, we focus on what’s required if you’re digging near pipelines.


How would you know if there’s a pipeline on or near your property?


Energy transmission pipelines are buried within a strip of land called a pipeline right-of-way (ROW) or easement, which can range from 10 to 40 metres wide. If there’s a pipeline near you, you’ll see many signs or pipeline markers along the ROW, especially near roads, property lines, railway or river crossings. This is what they look like.

underground pipeline marker types


However, these signs only tell the general route of the line. They don’t give the exact location or depth of the pipeline. And that’s the information you’ll need if you’re planning to dig into the ground. Pipeline and other utility companies are obligated to locate and mark their underground structures when requested. Most provinces support a One-Call Centre, and/or a Call or Click Before You Dig program to prevent damage to infrastructure and protect the safety of the community.


Preparing to dig safely


Once you’ve called to make a location request, line locating technicians will come to your property and mark the location of the pipeline or other underground infrastructure using flags or paint. They’ll let you know when all lines are marked and explain what the markers mean. After the site is marked, you’ll have a short window to start your project. You may have to call again if the project is delayed. That’s because line locate markers can be impacted by weather or accidentally moved, so they’re only valid for 14 days. Check out this list to be clear about requirements if you’re planning to dig. It’s also good to ensure you’re well prepared when you call. Here are a few quick tips that will make the locate request simple and quick for you and the company that’s locating the infrastructure. Before you call or click:

  • Be clear on the type of work you need to do and the start date.
  • Have information at your fingertips about the dig location, including the city or town, street address, legal land location or lot and block, and/or two intersecting street names nearby.
  • You may be asked to outline your project site with white flags, paint or survey tape on small wooden stakes.
  • Allow two working days after you call for the company to mark the site.

Preventing damage to pipelines and protecting the safety of communities are among the highest priorities for CEPA’s member companies. Outcomes of third-party damage can be significant for the people involved and have costly consequences for the companies. The prevention measures are simple. Always remember to Call or Click before you dig.

Learn more about how you can ‘dig safe’: