Be safe, not sorry.
Centra Pipelines is reminding the public and contractors to be aware of natural gas pipeline right-of-ways and exercise caution in those areas.
And if you're planning on doing any digging, be sure to call Ontario One Call toll-free at 1-800-400-2255 beforehand.
Cris Kemp, risk management manager for Centra Pipelines, told the Times last week there have been a couple of recent incidents in Rainy River District that prompted the company to reinforce its awareness campaign.
In late May, an individual east of Fort Frances got their pickup truck stuck in a boggy area located just metres away from a pipeline right-of-way sign.
“It was clearly stuck. You couldn't even see the running boards of the truck,” noted Kemp.
“He was in there deep," he added. ”You could see where he [had] been backing up, trying to get himself out.
“What we discovered when we came across this, and one of our technicians went out and checked, and marked out on the ground where the pipe actually was, there was several places where this truck in question sank down close to two feet,” Kemp said.
While fortunately there was no damage to the pipeline in this instance, there could have been.
Even though natural gas pipelines are installed safely below the ground, the amount of earth between the surface and the pipeline can erode away over time, depending on the historic use of the land in question and the elements, Kemp explained.
“It doesn't take a whole lot before you can end up in a dangerous situation,” he warned.
The National Energy Board's Damage Prevention Regulations require that written authorization be obtained from the pipeline company or the NEB for the operation of a vehicle or mobile equipment across a pipeline.
In a second incident, a subcontractor replacing guard rails along King's Highway near Stratton was pounding metal posts into the ground pneumatically in a pipeline right-of-way.
A Centra Pipelines technician noticed this, investigated, and determined none of the contractors involved had gotten a “locate” done prior to doing excavating.
“They were fairly close to our pipeline,” said Kemp, noting the situation could have been disastrous if a metal post had been driven through the gas line.
The law is clear: when someone excavates or performs an activity that would cause a ground disturbance, that person must ensure that all gas, electrical, and other services in the area are located and marked by the appropriate utility company, Kemp stressed.
As such, anyone in Ontario doing any such activity near a pipeline right-of-way must call Ontario One Call and set up a locate.
A technician will attend the scene and determine exactly where the pipeline is before any excavating is done.
“You can use right-of-ways but, particularly for industrial purposes, you've got to have permission,” Kemp noted.
“You need to understand that if somebody doesn't locate that pipe for you or that buried hydro line, you're putting yourself or, depending on where it is you're digging, others in danger.”
Excavating could include anything from digging holes to clearing land and installing drainage tile to creating ruts in the ground with pickup trucks, ATVs, and quads, which, depending on ground conditions, can and does impact buried pipelines.
Logging activity also could impact a pipeline. For example, a logging truck could be skidding logs and timbers to create a landing on the right-of-way.
“Now you've got a truck loaded with logs crossing the right-of-way for days or weeks, depending on the logging activity and what's going on, and that can put strain on the pipe,” Kemp said.
Pipeline right-of-ways are clear cut, and can be identified by pipeline markers with a sign indicating there is a natural gas pipeline or other facility in the area.
Centra Pipelines constantly is doing risk assessments, noted Kemp, and about four years ago, it determined the greatest risk was what they call “third-party damage,” (i.e., damage caused by external parties, ranging from farmers and loggers to sports and recreation activities).
Centra Pipelines performs in-line inspections on its pipeline, which is done by physically inserting a “smart tool” into the pipe.
The smart tool then is pushed along by the gas while inside it.
While the smart tool moves along the pipeline, advanced sensors provide data on where exactly there may be any anomalies in the pipe and whether repairs are necessary.
Centra Pipelines uses targeted mailings, meets annually with contractors, fire departments, and emergency responders, and appears at trade shows and other events within its jurisdictions to promote awareness of pipeline safety.
It also stresses the purpose of the regulations is to help protect lives, property, and the environment.