Before beginning work around oil and gas pipelines, it’s important to obtain all required approvals to ensure that workers, the public, and the environment are safe.
Below is a brief overview of what to do and who to contact when planning surface work or a ground disturbance around oil and gas pipelines. This information applies to pipelines that we regulate.
Surface Work Near a Pipeline
What activities are considered surface work?
Operating vehicles or equipment on or across a pipeline other than via a highway or public road is considered surface work.
Ground Disturbance Near a Pipeline
What activities are considered ground disturbances?
Ground disturbances, as defined under the Pipeline Act, can include excavating, digging, trenching, plowing, drilling, tunnelling, augering, backfilling, blasting, stripping topsoil, levelling, removing peat, quarrying, clearing, grading, and pounding posts.
Activities that are not considered to be a ground disturbance include
- a disturbance that is less than 30 centimetres deep and that does not reduce the pipeline cover to less than what currently exists, and
- cultivation less than 45 centimetres deep.
Prepare to Carry Out a Ground Disturbance
Before conducting a ground disturbance anywhere, a person must
- search for pipelines within 30 metres (m) of the perimeter of the area that they plan to disturb, and
- contact Alberta One-Call and request the location of any buried utilities in the area.
Note that not all underground services are registered on the Alberta One-Call system—do not assume that they are!
Ways of searching for pipelines, in addition to contacting Alberta One-Call, include the following:
- Check with local utility providers.
- Check the land title for easements or rights-of-way.
- Look for pipeline warning signs, which are typically located at road or water crossings.
- Look for nearby wells, tanks, valve stations, and meter stations, which might indicate the presence of a pipeline.
- Look for ground settling from previous work.
- Talk to nearby residents and landowners.
- Hire a service provider that locates pipelines.
- Order Pipeline As Built / Base Maps / Right Of Way Plans through the AER products and services catalogue, or contact the AER Customer Contact Centre for help ordering it.
Determine Where Work Is To Be Conducted Around a Pipeline
A pipeline right-of-way (ROW) is the land allocated for the pipeline and its maintenance. It is often defined in a written agreement between the landowner and the pipeline company. The width of the ROW is usually less than 30 m but can vary.
The width of the ROW should be identified on the land title or easement. Do not assume that the pipeline is located in the middle of the ROW.
Controlled Area of a Pipeline
A pipeline’s controlled area is a strip of land 30 m wide on each side of the pipeline, measured from the centre of the outermost pipeline. If the ROW extends beyond 30 m from the centre of the outermost pipeline, the entire ROW is the controlled area.
Contact the Pipeline Licensee
Contact the pipeline licensee for approval to do the following:
- Ground disturbance in a pipeline ROW, or within 5 m of the pipeline if there is no pipeline ROW
- Surface work in a pipeline ROW, or within 5 m of the pipeline if there is no pipeline ROW
- Cross a pipeline with vehicles or equipment
- Work outside of a pipeline ROW but within 30 m of the pipeline (i.e., in the controlled area)
Written approval from the licensee must be obtained before conducting a ground disturbance in the pipeline ROW or within 5 m of the pipeline if there is no ROW.
If the pipeline licensee does not respond, see the Unresponsive Pipeline Licensee section for how to proceed.
Report Any Incidents
All pipeline incidents in Alberta must be reported to the AER, including when a pipeline is hit, even if no product is released.
For more information about conducting a ground disturbance around a pipeline, see our Safe Excavation Near Pipelines brochure.
Attempts to contact a pipeline licensee might be unsuccessful if the licensee is in insolvency proceedings, has ceased operations, or has no person acting on its behalf.
Except in cases of ground disturbance within a pipeline ROW, or within 5m of a pipeline if there is no ROW, we do not have the authority to issue approvals on behalf of the licensee for work to be conducted around pipelines, nor do we have the ability to extend existing agreements with the licensee. We also do not issue approvals for surface work around a pipeline where there is no ground disturbance, such as crossing or encroaching on a pipeline.
Any work done without the approval of a pipeline licensee (or the trustee or receiver-manager of its property) is done at the person’s own risk.
Who to Contact When the Licensee Is Unresponsive
- If the pipeline is designated as an orphan, contact the Orphan Well Association by email at email@example.com.
- If the pipeline is on private land, contact the landowner for permission to access their land, including use of any private roads.
- If the pipeline is on public land and access is needed on a nearby licence of occupation (LOC) for road use, a road-use agreement must be made with the LOC holder.
If the LOC holder does not respond,
- If the pipeline is within a special area, contact the Special Areas Board.
When to Contact the AER
If the licensee is unresponsive, contact us for approval to conduct a ground disturbance in the pipeline ROW, or within 5 m of the pipeline if there is no ROW. Email us at PipelineOperations@aer.ca, with “Ground disturbance request inside pipeline ROW” in the “Subject” field of the email.
Separate arrangements still need to be made for access to the site, as discussed above.
Requests to us must include the following:
- Pipeline licence number and line number
- A clear description of the planned ground disturbance
- Documentation detailing attempts to get a response from the pipeline licensee
- A statement saying whether the proposed activity is on private or public land
- A site survey, or other mapping document, that clearly identifies the location (i.e., legal subdivision) of the planned ground disturbance and the distance to any potentially impacted infrastructure
- The approximate schedule for the work
- Contact information (including mailing address) for the company or individual requiring the approval
Please allow us at least two weeks to issue a decision. Incomplete requests will delay the response. We will respond in the order in which requests are received. If we issue an approval, it might contain terms and conditions that we feel are appropriate in the circumstances.
If the property has been designated as an orphan, we will coordinate the approval with the Orphan Well Association.
Any work done without the approval of the pipeline licensee (or the trustee or receiver-manager of its property) is done at the person’s own risk.