What is being done to keep Canada’s waterways safe?

Canada is home to over 8,500 rivers and two million lakes, so to safely deliver the energy Canadians need, CEPA members combine safety, engineering and environmental expertise to operate pipelines through waterways and near aquifers. CEPA members protect the waterway and surrounding habitats and environment at each stage of the pipeline life cycle – from planning and construction to operations, maintenance and retirement.

Finding the least impactful place to cross

Biologists, environmentalists and other experts carefully study the proposed pipeline routes, often over many seasons, to choose the safest place for the pipeline to cross. They look at ways to minimize the pipeline’s impact by analyzing many factors, including bank stability and the presence of wildlife, vegetation and fish habitat.

Choosing the safest way to build

When building a pipeline across a waterway, operators will always choose the safest method possible, based on careful analysis of bank stability, wildlife, vegetation, and fish habitat – all in accordance with industry leading standards and government regulations. For example, if environmental conditions allow it, the operator may use a trenchless method, which has less impact on the waterway. The operator drills a path underneath the river and threads the pipeline through.

A pipeline being placed under this river

A pipeline operator is putting a pipeline under this river right now and when it’s completed, you won’t be able to tell. Photo courtesy of TransCanada Pipelines

Other preferred water crossing options include using the isolated trench technique, where the water is diverted around the excavation, or waiting until the waterway is dry or frozen before excavating. Traditional trenching methods are only used when other crossing methods are not feasible.

Careful construction techniques and procedures are used to protect every kilometer of pipe.  

Adding extra protection for waterways

The industry uses pipes specifically designed for waterways and near aquifers. The walls of the pipe may be thicker and the pipe is covered with corrosion-resistant material. The sections are welded at 3100 degrees Celsius, fusing them together. If there is a strong current or deep water, cables, bolts and weights may be installed as extra stability for the pipeline. Both during and after construction, the pipe is continuously checked for quality control.

Ensuring safe operations

Pipeline operators monitor the banks and slopes at crossings to make sure they remain stable, and 24/7 monitoring systems keep a close watch on the flow of product in the pipeline. If there are changes, alarms will alert the operator.

Pipelines crossing major bodies of water, like lakes, are equipped with block valves at both sides of the crossing that can close quickly to stop product flow.

Aerial view of a site one year after pipeline installation

A year before this picture was taken, this area looked like a construction site.

Trenchless technology installing a pipeline under a riverbed

Trenchless technology threads a pipe under the riverbed to avoid disrupting flow or wildlife.

Trenchless technology threads a pipe under the riverbed to avoid disrupting flow or wildlife.

Horizontal Directional Drilling diagram

Horizontal Directional Drilling is a trenchless construction method that involves drilling a path underneath a river or other obstacle (like a road) and basically threading the pipeline underneath.
Large Machinery Laying a pipeline into a waterbed

Choosing a location best suited to maintaining the stability and the integrity of the pipeline is a key consideration when planning where a pipeline will cross water. Photo courtesy of TransMountain Expansion.

Restoring the land

Operators minimize disruption during construction, and then restore the land after the pipeline is installed, including activities like replacing the soil and restoring the vegetation on the shoreline. Water crossings are monitored by environmental experts on the ground, as well by aerial patrols, to ensure the reclamation process has been successful for plants and wildlife habitat.

Regulatory conditions require up to five years of post-construction monitoring. If there are any issues, the operator will take action to correct the issue until the reclamation is successful. The right-of-way will then be monitored by environmental specialists to ensure continued care of the environment and protection of the pipeline.

Getting better all the time

CEPA is producing the edition of its comprehensive guidelines for constructing transmission pipelines across bodies of water in collaboration with over 100 biologists, engineers, government officials and other experts. In addition, CEPA members also use best practices for maintenance and repairs on pipelines that cross waterways. These guidelines ensure CEPA members are using up-to-date procedures for crossing bodies of water.

Preparing for anything

When incidents happen, emergency management plans help operators act quickly and efficiently. They provide a comprehensive guide for handling the emergency.

CEPA members carry out regular exercises to ensure that responders are able to work together effectively and efficiently to stop the spill, contain the damage and restore the land.

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