Legal Header

Before beginning work around AER-licensed oil and gas pipelines, it’s important to properly assess whether a pipeline exists in the ground disturbance area and obtain all required approvals to ensure that workers, the public, and the environment are safe.

Follow the requirements in Part 5 of the Pipeline Rules and sections 32, 35, and 42 of the Pipeline Act. 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.

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, or
  • 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 Utility Safety Partners (formally Alberta One-Call) and request the location of any buried utilities in the area.

Note that not all underground services are registered on the Utility Safety Partners system—do not assume that they are!

Ways of searching for pipelines, in addition to contacting Utility Safety Partners, 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.
  • If there is no current licensee for the pipeline, hire a pipeline locating service.
  • Check available online mapping, including AER OneStop.

Determine Where Work Is To Be Conducted Around a Pipeline

Pipeline Right-of-Way
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
If working in the controlled area, but outside of the ROW, the pipeline licensee must be notified of the work so it can locate and mark the location of the pipeline as required by the Pipeline Rules.

If working inside the ROW, or within 5m of the pipeline where there is no designated pipeline ROW, you may not proceed without written consent from the licensee, and the licensee must locate and mark the pipeline location and provide supervisory assistance.

Contact with the licensee is usually made through the use of the call-out program administered by Utility Safety Partners (formerly Alberta One-Call.)

Persons conducting ground disturbance should also contact the pipeline licensee for approval to cross a pipeline with heavy vehicles or equipment.  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.

Learn More
For more information about conducting a ground disturbance around a pipeline, see our Safe Excavation Near Pipelines brochure.

For rules and requirements that must be followed when working around pipelines, see the Pipeline Act (sections 32, 35, and 42) and the Pipeline Rules (Part 5, "Ground Disturbance"). Noncompliance could result in injury or environmental damage.  Penalties for contravention can include fines or prosecution, and civil claims for damages. 

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 specific cases (see “When to Contact the AER” below), 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.
  • 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,
    • AER-regulated parties must apply for a Regulatory Temporary Field authorization (RTF) using OneStop, and
    • Parties not regulated bty the AER must apply for a TFA from Alberta Environment and Protected Areas.
  • 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 @email, 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 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.