Key Takeaways

  • Operators often try to follow existing pipeline or power line routes to minimize new environmental or community impacts.
  • Pipeline developers may choose to utilize horizontal directional drilling to minimize environmental impacts and safely cross water bodies.
  • Pipeline companies are committed to working with landowners fairly, openly and with respect.

How Do Pipeline Operators Decide Where to Put a Pipeline?

Many factors go into determining the route a pipeline will travel. Engaging with and listening to stakeholders, understanding issues, and balancing all the factors is part of the selection process.

During the planning for a new pipeline, pipeline operators map out potential routes to avoid areas that are highly populated, environmentally sensitive or have cultural significance. Operators will also try to follow existing pipeline or power line routes to minimize new environmental or community impacts.

Next, as part of the planning process, a major pipeline project must include a detailed study of its environmental impacts. The potential impact of a pipeline on natural resources, wildlife, habitat, and cultural resources are all considered. For example, pipeline planners avoid impacting rivers or lakes by tunneling deep beneath them. Before a pipeline reaches a waterbody shoreline, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) can burrow the pipeline 100 feet or more beneath the bottom of a waterbody so that the pipeline does not get close to or come into contact with the water itself.

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) process

Pipeline operators use HDD to safely cross bodies of water.

What happens if a pipeline crosses private land?

Because pipelines deliver products over long distances across the U.S., pipelines have many neighbors in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Pipelines cross under creeks and rivers, highways and roads, farmers’ fields, parks, and may be close to homes, businesses, or other community centers.

Written agreements, or easement agreements, between landowners and pipeline companies allow pipeline companies to construct and maintain pipeline rights-of-way across privately-owned property. Most pipelines are buried below ground in a right-of-way, which allows the landowner to continue using the property for certain activities. The location of the buried pipeline is identified with a line marker place above the pipe.

A temporary construction easement will likely be wider than the permanent right-of-way, which may range from 25- to 150-feet wide depending on the pipeline system, the presence of other nearby utilities, and the land use along the right-of-way. Permanent rights-of-way may be wider or narrower depending on specific locations and the terms of the easement agreement.

line marker

Pipeline right-of-ways range from 25 to 150 feet wide.

Importantly, rights-of-way are kept clear to allow the pipeline to be protected, viewed clearly during aerial surveys, and properly maintained. Pipeline companies are responsible for maintaining their rights-of-way to protect the public and the environment, the line itself and customers from loss of service.

Pipeline operators are increasingly taking steps to protect and enhance the natural environment by implementing proven approaches to land management. API leads pipeline operators in creating standard approaches for establishing conservation plans for lands within the footprint of member company operations while driving a long-term positive impact within and across the industry and communities in which they operate. The conservation programs provide an integrated and systematic approach to planning, implementing, and sustaining land management.

A right-of-way (ROW) is a strip of land, usually about 25- to 150-feet wide, that contains a pipeline. The ROW:

  • Allows workers to gain access for inspection, maintenance, testing, or emergencies.
  • Maintains an unobstructed view for regular aerial and ground surveillance.
  • Identifies an area that restricts certain activities to protect the landowner, the community through which the pipeline passes, and the area where the pipeline itself is located.

Landowner Relations

Pipeline companies are committed to working with landowners fairly, openly, and respectfully. Operators negotiate with landowners in good faith and are responsive to their questions and concerns and consistent in upholding their commitments. After several years in development with members of the public and government representatives, pipeline operators published first-of-its-kind guidance on public and community engagement, beginning with the early routing and siting decisions for a proposed project. The document establishes a framework for soliciting and responding to community and landowner concerns while sharing information and minimizing disruptions wherever possible. Pipeline operators have collaborated with regulators and landowners on a set of core training materials to develop strong relations with members of the public living close to a pipeline right-of-way.

Eminent Domain

Eminent domain is the process by which government entities or others may use private property for public use following compensation to the private landowner. Eminent domain has been instrumental in building our nation’s extensive infrastructure network, from highways, dams, airports and railroads to cable and electricity lines along with coveted public spaces like national monuments and parks. Pipeline operators use eminent domain as a last resort and work in good faith first to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with landowners. Most negotiations between landowners and pipeline operators are successful in reaching an agreement. If the public benefits encroach on private land, landowners receive fair compensation for their property and typically retain the use of their property for many purposes. Several states have a state-specific Landowner Bill of Rights such as Texas, guaranteeing rights for landowners in any negotiations.