Pipelines and urban planners – how new standards will help prevent damage

As Canada’s towns and cities expand, urban planners must work around a network of infrastructure, both above and below ground. Getting the facts about these services and their locations is crucial before the excavators move in, and construction begins.

As April is Dig Safe Awareness Month, we’re exploring how underground infrastructure owners – and pipeline operators particularly – work with urban planners to help prevent accidental damage to their lines.

The current process

According to Fraser Paterson, manager of damage prevention at Plains Midstream Canada, pipeline companies are proactive in preventing damage to pipelines in urban areas.

Fraser explained that, as part of their ongoing damage prevention and public awareness efforts, pipeline companies distribute information about pipelines to various affected stakeholders, including municipalities and other local governments. The information provided includes messaging on the potential issues that could arise when land is developed, or urban areas expanded.

While open communication between parties is a great place to start, Fraser indicated there’s room for improving the process through standardization.

“When planning new developments, there is no consistent Canadian standard for urban planners to follow regarding consultation with infrastructure owners,” he said. “The process varies from one jurisdiction to another – some municipalities, towns or cities have processes to notify and engage potentially affected pipeline owners while others have little or none at all.”

When urban planners are not fully informed about pipelines, there is the potential for pipelines to be damaged during excavation or construction, or for development to occur within a pipeline designated right of way, which could also create safety issues.

“When planners consult with potentially impacted pipeline owners during the planning stages, this helps avoid many potential issues,” he said.

Improving the process by setting a national standard

A technical committee with representatives from several different stakeholder groups is currently working on a new CSA standard to help address this issue. Such standards are established by the CSA Group, an organization that develops pipeline standards in Canada. The goal is to have the new standard developed and hopefully adopted in all jurisdictions across the country in 2018.

“There are currently only best practice documents, which planners and developers are not required to follow,” Fraser noted. “A recognized CSA standard will include requirements for consultation between urban planners and affected parties like pipeline operators in advance of any development activity taking place.”

Of course, it’s not only urban planners who need to make sure they locate underground infrastructure before planning a project. Any homeowner, contractor or landowner must request a locate before digging. Always click before you dig!

Stay tuned for next week as we continue our ‘Dig Safe Awareness Month’ series. In the meantime, check out our first post: ‘3 reasons why unauthorized digging is dangerous’.