How do pipeline companies protect waterways?

Canada is home to over 8,500 rivers and two million lakes. To safely deliver the energy Canadians need, CEPA members combine safety, engineering and environmental expertise to operate pipelines through waterways and near aquifers.

Choosing the safest way to build

Biologists, environmentalists and other experts carefully study proposed pipeline routes to choose the safest place for the pipeline to cross waterways. They analyze many factors, including bank stability and the presence of wildlife, vegetation and fish habitat. This is all done in accordance with industry leading standards and government regulations.

Operators often choose a trenchless method, which has less impact on waterways. A path is drilled underneath the river and the pipeline is threaded through. Other preferred water crossing options include diverting water 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.

Extra protection for waterways

Specially designed pipes with thicker walls and corrosion-resistant coatings are used in waterways and near aquifers. The sections are welded at 3,100 degrees Celsius, fusing them together. If there is a strong current or deep water, cables, bolts and weights may be installed for extra stability. The pipe is continuously checked during and after construction for quality control.

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 are equipped with block valves at both sides of the crossing that can close quickly to stop product flow.

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.


Responding to spills on water

If a leak is detected on a pipeline that goes through a waterway, emergency response plans are activated to control the spill and limit the damage. These plans include information about the specific waterway – including currents, spring run-off and habitats.

First, valves located on either side of the waterway are closed to shut down the segment of the pipe that’s in water. First responders from the pipeline company quickly arrive at the site to repair the cause of the leak and start clean-up using specialized equipment like spill containment booms and skimmers.

Shortly after the emergency crews arrive, clean-up specialists, biologists and hydrology experts arrive to work as long as it takes to clean up the spill.

Returning the area to its natural state

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.

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 TC Energy


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.

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 Trans Mountain.

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