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Erosion Control in Pipeline ROWs

Erosion control is an integral factor when creating, restoring, and even maintaining a pipeline ROW.  It’s so important that government agencies from the U.S. Department of Energy to the U.S. Forestry Service have researched how to best mitigate erosion in and around pipeline ROWs.

What exactly is erosion control?

Erosion control consists of the measures taken to control both wind and water erosion on both developed and undeveloped land.  It ensures that soil is not lost, bodies of water are not polluted, wildlife habitats are not destroyed, and human lives and properties are not put in jeopardy.  Erosion control in and around pipeline ROWs can also impact whether or not the area falls victim to floods and landslides.

Landslip Prevention

As stated by the United States Geological Survey, “because of the long linear nature of pipeline corridors, they often cross areas that are highly susceptible to landslides”.  Unfortunately, incorrect development along these pipeline corridors can make them even more susceptible to landslides.  This has adverse effects on the surrounding areas as well as on the pipelines themselves.  Millions of cubic meters of pipelines have been damaged due to the impact of landslides.

Fortunately, a properly constructed pipeline ROW can help to protect against landslides.  Some steps pipeline construction companies can take when establishing and building ROWs to prevent landslides are: reinforce slopes, create barriers, guide and prevent the flow of water away from eroding existing slopes.

Natural Habitat Protection

Erosion control also helps to protect nearby natural habitats as well as protected species of animals and plants.  Not only does it protect them from landslides, but it also helps protect them from habitat loss.  Erosion can destroy wetland areas and affect spawning rates, breeding grounds, and the natural food sources of marine and animal life living near the pipeline ROW.

The proper control and mitigation of erosion can minimize or even eliminate these issues.  A good pipeline ROW can often serve to preserve and protect natural habitats from naturally occurring erosion.  In this case, an otherwise endangered habitat is saved by the creation of the pipeline’s ROW.

Erosion around civil pipelines illustrates the necessity of erosion control measures, Image by SuSanA Secretariat, CC BY 2.0

People, Pipeline, and Property Protection

Landslides can result in damaged buildings, vehicles, pipelines, and claim valuable lives.  Landslide clean-up projects are costly and require many resources. The cost and time it requires to take the needed steps early, working with the goal of prevention and a set of proactive approaches, will be worth all the effort for the future.

Flooding can be prevented using erosion control techniques.  Proper erosion control measures will prevent or redirect the flow of water so that it cannot flood nearby towns or pollute local water sources.  This ensures that people’s homes stay safe and that the pipeline continues to run smoothly.

Local Water Protection

Erosion caused by flooding and leaving large amounts of sediment in its path can cause rivers and streams to become larger, dry up, or even become redirected.  These changes can have a big impact on these bodies of water which can lead to problems such as, loss of drinking water, and a loss of natural habitats.

In addition, eroded embankments lead to the free movement of stormwater runoff.  This water can force pollutants and even fertilizers into clean bodies of water for people who rely on them for clean drinking water or recreation.  Proper erosion mitigation procedures can protect local bodies of water ensuring safe clean water for communities and wildlife.

ROW Planning to Minimize Erosion

Each ROW is unique and will have different erosion control measures that need to be implemented.  For this reason, ROW builders must devote a significant amount of resources to gathering information on the intended construction sites.

This information can be gathered through satellite data, Lidar, aerial photogrammetry, and physical inspections of the area.  Oftentimes, the planning phase consists of gathering information from more than one of these sources.  This helps paint a more accurate picture and ensures that no area is overlooked.

Once the planners have a detailed overview of the area, they’ll use software to create maps to search for problem areas such as weak slopes, slip potentials, and flood-prone areas.  They will also consult with local environmental groups, local government or state, and the federal government to come up with a plan that works for everyone involved.

After the plans have been drawn up and approved by the appropriate parties, they will be sent to contractors who construct ROWs.

Constructing a ROW to Minimize Erosion

Pipeline Installation and ROW, By Albinfo, CC BY 4.0

There are many steps ROW builders can use to help minimize erosion.  Some of these steps might include:

  • Creating natural watersheds to contain water runoff.
  • Building drainage ditches to control the flow of water.
  • Building retaining walls to support slopes.
  • Shaping and grading existing slopes.

Controlling The Flow of Water to Prevent Erosion

A natural watershed helps slow and control the flow of water to prevent erosion of the surrounding areas.  These watersheds will usually consist of natural vegetation that helps to slow down and absorb water as it passes through the area.  To ensure water makes its way through these areas, naturally occurring hills and valleys can be incorporated.  Where necessary, slopes and ditches can be created to direct drainage.

Watersheds typically flow into a large body of water such as a river or lake and are also susceptible to erosion.  Minimizing erosion within these watersheds helps prevent these bodies of water from flooding into the ROW.  As a result, watersheds surrounding newly created pipeline ROWs are almost always better off than they were before the construction of the ROW.

Retaining, Shaping, and Grading

Sometimes slopes may need to be retained with the use of a retaining wall.  These walls help to support weak slopes so that they cannot erode.  In less extreme cases, netting or hydroseeding helps to fortify the slope and make it more resistant to erosion.

If the above methods are not enough to mitigate the erosion of a slope, the slope may need to be reshaped.  This can be done through excavation and grading techniques that soften the slope.  Once the slope is reshaped, it may also need to be fortified with fresh vegetation.

Erosion Control in ROW Restoration

The creation of the ROW itself can often cause an increase in erosion.  Compacted soil, recently deforested areas, and even just the loss of grass in the area might cause the soil to be eroded by both wind and water.

To restore the ROW properly, restoration crews take steps to decompact the soil.  Excavation techniques vary based on the type of soil present in the area and the severity of the soil compaction.  As such, it’s important to use a ROW restoration company with knowledge and experience in this area.

Native vegetation must be replanted.  In most cases, hydroseeding by land or air can be used to replant vegetation because of its efficiency over traditional seeding methods.

Aerial Methods for Erosion Control in ROW Maintenance

Once a ROW has been established, it will need to be maintained by continuous monitoring of the surrounding slopes through the use of drones and software. These play an integral part in helping pipeline companies discover and proactively mitigate any potential risks before they become a problem.

Once identified, crews can reinforce or reshape the slope as necessary using vegetation management to assist in the reinforcement efforts.  Although vegetation can be effective, it can sometimes die.  Therefore vegetation in these areas should be monitored and immediately replanted where needed.

Final Thoughts

Erosion control plays an integral role in building a pipeline ROW that is safe for the pipeline as well as the areas surrounding the pipeline.  Proper erosion control measures will help to protect the area from both flooding and landslides which could otherwise have devastating effects.

Hanging H has a strong advantage when it comes to erosion control for pipeline installation and services.  Not only is Hanging H experienced at erosion control best-practices, we also have specialized slip detection software and can economically capture aerial data and use it for erosion control.  We use these aerial analytics for early detection and mitigation of erosion and slips.  We can also detect a high probability of erosion and slip during the planning phase.  This makes sure the job is planned the best route possible and the safety of the communities, environment, pipeline, and pipeline products are always maintained.