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Pipeline Right-of-Way Maintenance Explained

Creating a pipeline right-of-way is a large undertaking that involves an immense amount of planning, funding, and work. It can take years to create a ROW for a large pipeline. However, all this effort would be for nothing without a solid right-of-way maintenance plan.

But what is right-of-way maintenance? Right-of-way maintenance consists of monitoring, preventing, and repairing any issues that might arise along the pipeline’s right-of-way.

Some of these issues might include:

  • Slope Failures
  • Storm Water Run-off
  • Vegetation Growth
  • Environmental Concerns
  • Human Interference
  • Lost or Damaged Sign Posts

Let’s take a deep dive into each of these pipeline ROW maintenance concerns…

Slope Maintenance

Slope failures can cause devastating landslides that can be dangerous to the pipeline as well as to the surrounding areas. These failures are costly and time-consuming to fix as well. Because of this, the best way to deal with a slope failure is to prevent it from failing in the first place.

This is done through continuous monitoring of the slopes along the ROW. Most companies will use UAVs to do this. But manned aircraft, satellites, and ground inspections can also be used to monitor slopes.

Typically, a UAV will be used in concert with advanced software programs that detect any changes to the area. If the software detects a change to one of the slopes, inspectors can be sent to the area to make an assessment and to determine what, if anything, needs to be done. When a problem is found, repair crews can be sent to the area to fix the slope before any issues arise.

Unfortunately, slope failures aren’t always caught in advance. When a slope does fail, fixing it can be costly and time-consuming. In this case, ROW maintenance might consist of repairing any damage that was done to the ROW as well as rebuilding any slopes that were damaged.

A professional pipeline right-of-way maintenance crew should be able to quickly make these repairs so that the pipeline operations don’t have to be interrupted for an extended period. This is why it’s so critical to have a right-of-way maintenance plan in place before any damages occur.

Stormwater Run-off

Stormwater run-off can cause damage to the ROW as well as to the surrounding areas. One of the main reasons for this is that stormwater run-off often leads to soil erosion. Soil erosion can, in turn, lead to landslips as well as flooding.

This isn’t just a problem for the ROW either. Stormwater run-off can flood nearby areas, making it difficult or even impossible to access the pipeline that the ROW was made to protect.

Additionally, stormwater runoff can be dangerous to nearby bodies of water. This water can often contaminate local lakes and rivers. A well-built ROW will account for stormwater runoff so that it is not an issue. However, weather conditions, natural disasters, and human intervention can all affect the way water runs through a ROW.

Over time, a ROW can become damaged and the flow of water can change. When this happens, it is the responsibility of the ROW maintenance and repair crews to fix these problems.

Some of the ways stormwater runoff is managed are through the use of:

  • Watersheds
  • Drainage Ditches
  • Swales and Berms
  • Dry Wells
  • Stream Repair

The solution to stormwater runoff issues will change depending on the situation. Watersheds can be built to slow and contain a large amount of water while drainage ditches can be used to slow and redirect the flow of water.

Swales and berms can be created at the bottom of slopes to slow and contain water as well as sediment. In other cases, a dry well might be created to protect specific and localized areas that cannot be protected through more natural means.

Local streams can also be restored, reshaped, or repaired so that they can handle the additional flow of water through their banks. These efforts can help to protect and beautify the surrounding area.

Vegetation Growth on a Pipeline Right-Of-Way

Vegetation growth can become a large threat to a ROW. This is because large tree roots can damage the pipeline and branches can make access to the pipeline more difficult. This is especially hazardous during storm events when trees and tree branches are likely to fall along the ROW.

To protect against this, ROW maintenance crews will cut down any large tree branches or trees that sprout up along sensitive areas. They’ll also cut the grass and shrubs around the area so that maintenance crews will have easy access to the pipeline.

This being said, many ROWs are built with the local environment in mind. These ROWs have plant life that enhances the natural beauty of the area and encourages the creation of habitats by local wildlife.

For example, a ROW may have native wildflowers planted within it. These wildflowers serve to attract pollinator insects. Another ROW might plant native grasses to encourage local animal populations to graze in the area.

In this case, vegetation management along the ROW would consist of protecting the plants that were planted during the creation of the ROW. This is usually done by trimming the plants to a manageable height and fertilizing plants until they are strong enough to flourish on their own.

It might also mean the removal of invasive species. The removal of invasive species is especially important when the ROW is first created.  The new plants will be especially vulnerable to encroachment. The maintenance team will need to be able to identify these species so that they can deal with them properly.

Protecting the Environment with Proper ROW Maintenance

A well-built and well-maintained ROW goes a long way towards protecting the environment. As we discussed earlier, proper ROW management will protect local streams and lakes from stormwater runoff, protect slopes from slope failure, and protect local plants and wildlife.

However, a good right-of-way maintenance plan can do much more than this. Proper maintenance of the right-of-way ensures that pipeline inspectors and repair crews will always have unfettered access to the pipeline. Hence, pipeline inspectors can find problems with the pipeline before they turn into leaks. Any leaks that do occur can be fixed quickly.

Even the soil is protected along a right-of-way. Soil can sometimes become compacted during the construction and maintenance of the pipeline. After repairs are made to the pipeline that requires the use of heavy equipment, maintenance crews will check the soil and make alterations as necessary.

Tillage of the soil will ensure that the plants that are planted along the ROW will thrive. It will also ensure that any farming operations that take place on nearby easements will also be fruitful.

Avoiding Human Interference to a Pipeline ROW

Human interference can become a large threat to a ROW. This interference can come in many forms and maintenance crews need to be able to deal with all of them.

For example, nearby property owners may decide to park their vehicles, boats, or even their motorhomes and campers along the ROW. This could restrict access to the ROW and could hinder inspections, repairs, and simple maintenance tasks like cutting the grass along the ROW. In this case, the maintenance team will need to know who to contact to get the obstructions removed without any damage to the ROW or loss of goodwill.

Another example of human interference could develop along the easements that help provide access to the ROW. For instance, a farmer may fail to realize that they’ve just erected a new fence along the easement leading into the ROW. In this case, the fence will need to be taken down or access points will need to be created through the fence so that vehicles can quickly and safely move through the area unhindered.

ROW Sign Posts

While it might seem like a trivial issue on the surface, it is critical that a ROW remain clearly marked. In fact, damaging gas pipeline signs is a federal crime. The reasons for this are threefold.

  1. Performing Work on the Pipeline: Pipeline repair crews need to be able to quickly find the pipeline so that they can make their repairs promptly. Well-marked ingress and egress points will help these crews do this.
  2. Avoiding Pipeline Disturbance: Secondly, local emergency response teams and utility companies need to know the locations of the pipeline. This way, if there is an accident in the area or work needs to be done, the response crews will know to be careful not to disturb the pipeline. This helps to keep the pipeline as well as the response crews safe from harm.
  3. Avoiding ROW Encroachment: Lastly, well-marked ROWs help to keep landowners from accidentally encroaching on the ROW. Oftentimes property rights issues occur simply because landowners fail to remember where the easements start and where they end.

By maintaining proper signage, the ROW itself, the pipeline, and the community are all protected.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the challenges that pipeline ROW maintenance teams face each day come in many forms. Because of this, it’s important that pipelines choose a team that is experienced enough and professional enough to get the job done safely and efficiently.

Hanging H has decades of experience in pipeline right-of-way maintenance. Additionally, we create ROWs that are stable and safe, and we can repair ROWs that have been damaged or suffer from deferred maintenance. Our team uses UAVs to monitor for slips and encroachment. If your company manages pipeline ROWs, we are happy to help you take care of these ROWs.