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. Listening to stakeholders, understanding issues, and balancing all of 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 sites that 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, never coming into contact or close to 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 must cross the nation to deliver products over long distances, 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. Some of the land that pipelines cross is privately owned.

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 working space needed during initial construction may be temporarily wider than the permanent right-of-way, which may range from 25- to 150-feet wide depending on the easement, 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 agreement terms.

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, aerially surveyed, 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.

A right-of-way (ROW) is 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 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 with respect. Operators negotiate with landowners in good faith and are responsive to their questions and concerns and consistent in upholding their commitments. Pipeline operators 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. Click here to learn more about the “Liquids Pipeline Owner and Operator Commitment to Landowners,” published by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL).

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. Pipeline operators view 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. Several states have a state-specific Landowner Bill of Rights such as Texas, guaranteeing rights for landowners in any negotiations.