How do operators prevent damage to pipelines?

Some of the biggest threats to pipeline safety are unauthorized construction, development, encroachment and digging activities near pipelines.

Preventing damage to pipelines is a shared responsibility, which is why pipeline owners and operators aim to prevent these situations from happening by working with the government, the public, the excavating community, developers, municipal works departments and individual contractors to develop education programs and services.

In addition, CEPA members have a number of practices and operations in place to prevent damage to pipelines.

Damage prevention practices and operations

Following pipeline regulation

Pipeline operators are held to very high safety and quality standards. The transmission pipeline industry follows strict federal, provincial, and municipal regulations that govern how to work safely and responsibly around pipelines.

CEPA’s About Pipelines Map provides the general location of underground transmission pipelines and facilities in your community, as well as information about who the pipeline regulator is.

Developing high standards for damage prevention

Canada has a national standard for damage prevention and the protection of all underground infrastructure, including transmission pipelines. The CSA Group standard, Z247-15, gives operators and the public one clear set of standards to follow for keeping Canada’s underground networks safe. The Canadian Common Ground Alliance (CCGA) is also working to establish the Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Act to complement the CSA standard for damage prevention.

Establishing the pipeline right-of-way

Transmission pipelines are buried within a strip of land called a pipeline right-of-way, which can range up to 40 metres wide. Right-of-ways have a limited number of trees, vegetation, buildings and other structures to allow easy access to the pipeline for monitoring and maintenance.

Identifying pipelines with signs

Federal and provincial regulations require pipeline companies to place identification signs or markers along their pipeline route. These noticeable, colourful signs are located along highways, at road, railway and water crossings and other prominent locations, to clearly mark the presence of a pipeline. Although these signs identify that a pipeline is in the area, they do not give the exact location or depth of the pipeline.

KM Pipeline markers Coquihalla (Transmountain)

Pipeline companies identify the general location of a pipeline using markers. Photo courtesy of TransMountain Expansion.

The pipeline is clearly marked with pipeline identification signs or markers, according to regulations.

Creating a buffer zone

The National Energy Board (NEB), as well as provincial regulators, mandates a ‘buffer’ area on either side of a pipeline right-of-way. These areas are intended to ensure the public’s safety and protect the pipeline from getting damaged from activities like excavation.

The pipeline operator is responsible for making decisions about what activities may pose risks in the buffer zone. Certain activities, such as excavation using explosives or power-operated equipment are not allowed within this zone in order to protect the public, the environment, and the pipeline.

Safety or buffer zones differ between regulators, so ground disturbers should follow appropriate laws and regulation.

Investigating and reporting unauthorized activities

CEPA member companies have committed to key pipeline damage prevention initiatives, like mandatory investigation and reporting of any activity that poses a risk to transmission pipelines. Individuals or organizations that ignore or violate applicable damage prevention regulations and laws are subject to penalties.

Public awareness

Taking responsibility for damage prevention

If a pipeline crosses provincial or international borders, it is regulated by the National Energy Board. These pipeline companies are required to implement damage prevention programs, which must include a public awareness program. Public awareness programs provide the public, contractors, emergency responders and public officials with important pipeline safety and damage prevention information.

Being aware of what’s below

To ensure public safety, pipelines are buried a few metres below the surface (the depth depends on the type of pipeline and location), but erosion and human activity can alter the depth. That’s why pipeline operators’ instructions must always be closely followed when engaging in any ground disturbance activity near a pipeline.

Follow the CEPA Safety Checklist whenever excavating near a pipeline.

Protecting the public with one call or click before you dig

Most provinces have notification centres called One Call centres, and/or a Call or Click Before You Dig program. Anyone planning an excavation project is required to use one of these services before beginning any ground disturbance work. Damages to underground utilities are significantly reduced when these services are used.

Call/Click Before You Dig helps reduce incidents caused by third party damage.

Promoting the Call or Click Before You Dig Program

Click Before You Dig GraphicCEPA members work with the provincial governments, municipalities, vendors, developers, homeowners and various stakeholders to promote the Call or Click Before You Dig program to the public. Throughout the year, pipeline operators use public awareness communications strategies to promote the One Call service and provide the public with important damage prevention information.

When people call, incidents are prevented. April is Dig Safe Awareness Month.

Using a safety checklist for safe excavation

To ensure any third-party excavation near a pipeline is done in the safest way possible, CEPA members have created a safety checklist for anyone planning a digging project to follow.

To minimize the risk of unintentionally causing damage to underground pipelines, follow these important steps:

  1. First, plan your activity. Identify the precise location you will be working and check any site records for evidence of pipeline construction or buried facilities.
  2. Thoroughly check the site and surrounding area for pipeline warning signs, pipeline right-of-way signs or marker posts.
  3. Contact the pipeline company in your area and request a copy of the pipeline company’s guidelines for ground disturbances.
  4. Obtain written approval from the pipeline company for the work.
  5. Locate the exact position of the pipeline by submitting a pipeline request.  Contact the one-call centre in areas where there is one or call the pipeline company to have the pipeline located.
  6. Be on site when the pipeline is located and inform yourself of all the signs and pipeline markers.
  7. Give at least three working days’ notice to the pipeline company before starting any work.  This will ensure that the pipeline company can take any required measures on their end to avoid any issues.
  8. Expose the pipeline by hand before mechanically disturbing the ground within three metres of the pipe.
  9. Notify the pipeline company one working day before backfilling earth over the pipe.
  10. Immediately notify the pipeline company if you come in contact with the pipe.
  11. ALWAYS follow the instructions of a pipeline company representative.

Safety or buffer zones differ between regulators, so ground disturbers should follow appropriate laws and regulation.

Aerial view of the pipeline right of way

Once this pipeline is completed, the land will be restored, but the pipeline right of way will still be identifiable. Photo courtesy of Alliance Pipelines.

Pipeline right of way warning sign

Protecting pipelines is a shared responsibility. Photo courtesy of Enbridge Pipelines.

Coating and painting a pipeline

Coatings and paint help prevent leaks on pipelines. Photo courtesy of Enbridge Pipelines.

Petroleum pipeline marker

Markers and signs indicate when a pipeline is in the area. These signs also provide emergency call numbers for the pipeline operator. Photo courtesy of Enbridge Pipelines.

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