RED DEER — Western Canada is not only bread basket to the world but also a secure source of oil and gas.
But as farms grow larger with heavier and wider equipment, the chances for conflict over damage to the land and energy installations increase, says Humphrey Banack, second vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and a grain farmer from Round Hill, Alta.
Four major pipelines owned by Atco Gas and Enbridge Inc., ranging in diameter from 24 to 48 inches, snake across his 5,000 acre farm in east-central Alberta.
There are at least four gas installations and a telecommunications fibre optics line. He also knows En-bridge is planning more pipelines by 2014.
Regulations state farmers can disturb only the top 30 centimetres of soil over a pipeline. They should not leave deep ruts or remove or add soil. They must call before they dig if they want to build a fence or outbuilding.
However, Banack worries about damaging the metre-deep lines as farm equipment becomes heavier and wider. There is also the risk of hitting above ground installations.
“When you are seeding around these with a 60 foot drill or sprayer, it is a long way to the outside,” he told the Alberta Synergy conference held in Red Deer Oct. 30.
He is also concerned about the effects on his land. There is increasing government pressure to adopt on-farm food safety and biosecurity programs, but if oil field equipment enters his land and introduces blackleg, clubroot, fusarium head blight, insects or weeds, he won’t know about it until it is too late.
“We have everybody coming in from who knows where tracking in diseases,” he said.
Companies are supposed to clean their equipment, but Banack said he wants to know who is liable if something is introduced.
“Two years from now if we find clubroot on my property, will En-ridge compensate me for that production loss?”
Pipelines should not interfere with normal farming practices, said Celine Sirois of the National Energy Board.
Each province has its own regulations governing pipelines, while the NEB regulates those crossing provincial or international borders.
A major regulatory concern is ensuring pipelines are not damaged. Each province has a toll free line to ensure people know there are no pipelines where they want to work.
Companies have a long list of re-sponsibilities when they receive their permits to operate.
They are required to tell landowners along the line what the setbacks are and what is being carried in the pipe. The size of setback depends on the location, geography and what is being carried in the line.
“They are not necessarily no work zones,” Sirois said.
“Just because there is a right of way does not mean a third party can’t do any activity near the pipeline.”
Companies must regularly monitor the condition of their lines for leaks and make sure they are not exposed by erosion.
“The company is responsible for identifying any risk that could be posed to a pipeline or to the environment and have a strategy to mitigate that,” she said.
“Over time, they should be in contact with a landowner and they should be monitoring what the condition of their pipeline is.”
The company has to ensure that a line will be repaired and made safe if it is exposed because of erosion.
“If we know a pipeline has become exposed in a waterway or in an area where people have to go over it all the time to the point where those activities are going to compromise the integrity of the pipeline, then that is a problem,” she said.
Starting next year, the NEB will have the authority to levy fines when a third party damages a pipeline.
An individual could be fined up to $25,000 and a company is liable up to $100,000 for each day of the violation.