Understanding the Pipeline Right-of-Way

Picture of DPC of TExas

DPC of TExas

America has an extensive network of gas and liquids pipelines including buried pipelines and aboveground facilities like valves, pumps, meter, and compressor stations. Since pipelines run cross country to deliver products over long distances, the network has many neighbors. Pipelines run under roads, across fields, through parks, and may be close to homes, businesses, schools, or other community areas. Pipelines are found in an area called the Right-of-Way (ROW). A pipeline ROW is a strip of land over and around a gas or liquids pipeline where some of the property owner’s legal rights have been ceded to a pipeline operator. A ROW agreement between the pipeline company and the property owner is also called an easement and is usually filed in the county Register & Recorders office with property deeds.

Written agreements, or easements, between landowners and pipeline operators allow the companies to construct and maintain pipeline ROW across privately owned property. Most pipelines are buried below ground in a ROW, which allows the landowner to still use the property in most cases. Many ROWs range from 25-150 feet wide, but may be wider or narrower depending on specific locations.

Right-of Way Maintenance Activities

The highest priority for every pipeline company is safety – the safety of the public, the pipeline, employees, and environment. To keep pipelines safe, operators monitor pipelines 24 hours a day/7 days a week in control rooms but they also monitor pipelines from the air and on foot to look for potential leaks, maintenance needs, and excavation taking place near the pipeline ROW. Pipelines are routinely inspected and frequently use advanced technology like “smart pigs” that run through the pipeline and look for corrosion, dents, or thinning walls. Hydrostatic tests are also routinely performed.

The pipeline is filled with water to higher than operating pressures to look for potential leaks. Prior to pigging or hydrotesting natural gas pipelines, controlled releases are performed. The release may create a loud roaring sound and lingering gas odor in the surrounding area. Since these activities are conducted under carefully controlled circumstances, they pose no danger to local citizens or the environment. It is important for landowners and pipeline operators to work together to keep the ROW safe. If gate locks are changed or changes are made to ROW access, it is the responsibility of the landowner to communicate with the operator.

Right-of-Way Use Restrictions

The pipeline ROW must remain clear of anything that blocks access to the area. The ROW agreement spells out the land use restrictions for property owners. Normal gardening and agricultural activities are generally acceptable, but you should never dig or construct anything within the easement without first contacting the pipeline operator. Fences across the ROW can affect corrosion protection and restrict access, buildings or trees can impair visibility. Pipeline operators are happy to share their company’s construction guidelines, so open communication is important.

Pipeline ROWs can be identified by the pipeline markers which include the name of the operator, emergency contact information, and a general description of the product in the pipeline. Pipeline markers only indicate the general location of buried pipelines, so they should never be used as a reference for the exact location of a pipeline. For the safety of the excavator, the pipeline, and the environment, you need to call 811 prior to any soil-disturbing activity, especially within the pipeline ROW.

Rights-of-Way are regularly cleared to allow for:

Aerial Surveillance: Aerial patrols are regularly conducted to detect threatening excavation activities within the pipeline ROW and visually search for potential leaks.

Routine Maintenance Access: Pipeline maintenance workers regularly maintain valves, meters, and other aboveground facilities; permanent pipeline markers are replaced or re-installed to keep contact information present; and pipe to ground corrosion surveys are performed.

Corrosion Protection: Tree roots can wrap around a pipeline, damaging the protective coating of the pipeline. This damage compromises efforts to avoid pipeline corrosion.

Emergency Response Access: Clear access to the pipeline allows for prompt response in the event of an emergency.

Chris Thome

Pipeline Ag Safety Alliance, as originally published in the 2017 PASA Farm & Ranch Excavation Safety Guide