ARCHIVED - FAQs on NEB Protection of Rivers and Other Waterbodies Crossed by Pipelines

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The Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act includes legislative changes to a number of Acts, including the National Energy Board Act (NEB Act). National Energy Board (NEB or Board) oversight of safety and environmental protection at pipeline water crossings is an area where changes will occur.

The safety of Canadians and protection of the environment are the NEB’s top priorities. In anticipation of these changes taking effect, the Board is providing information designed to help explain our current programs for water crossings as well as the changes that will take place in the coming months.

  1. What is a “water crossing”?
  2. How does the NEB oversee the protection of rivers and other waterbodies?
  3. How does the NEB assess environmental impacts of projects on rivers and other waterbodies?
  4. How does the NEB define “navigable waters”?
  5. What are the requirements that NEB-regulated pipeline companies must follow for pipeline water crossings?
  6. How does the NEB currently regulate navigable waters?
  7. What would the NEB require companies to do if an incident occurred near a water crossing?
  8. What are the changes coming into effect as a result of the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act to the Navigable Waters and Fisheries Act?
  9. Will these changes reduce the NEB’s oversight on navigable waters?

1. What is a “water crossing”?

A "water crossing" refers to a crossing or temporary crossing and any associated permanent or temporary structures that are or will be constructed to provide access over or through a water body.

Water crossings are common along Canadian pipeline routes. These particular locations merit focus because of the associated environmental sensitivities, multiple legislative considerations and complex design and installation activities.

2. How does the NEB oversee the protection of rivers and other waterbodies?

The Board requires companies to anticipate, prevent, manage and mitigate risks relevant to safety and environmental protection, including the protection of rivers and other waterbodies, throughout the lifecycle of energy projects within its jurisdiction. When making its decisions and recommendations, the Board takes into consideration all environmental concerns including: water pollution, the integrity of wetlands and natural habitats, and the disruption of land and resource use.

Companies planning to build energy facilities are required to satisfy the Board that they have anticipated all possible safety and environmental issues, including those related to the protection of rivers and other waterbodies. They are to discuss these issues with all levels of government, public interest groups, and affected landowners.

We hold companies accountable during construction, post-construction, operation and abandonment, and will take all available actions to protect the environment and the public. If a project application is approved, the Board requires the company to protect the environment, public health and safety. The NEB will audit and inspect the company's construction activities including its routine maintenance and monitoring procedures over the lifecycle of all energy projects. The Board does this in order to verify compliance of regulatory requirements and any conditions that may have been imposed by the Board.

3. How does the NEB assess environmental impacts of projects on rivers and other waterbodies?

The NEB conducts an environmental assessment during its review of applications for projects under its jurisdiction. Regardless of the legislation under which the NEB is conducting the environmental assessment, for example the NEB Act, Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act (COGOA), or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 (CEAA 2012), the NEB considers many factors, including:

  • physical and meteorological environment
  • soil, soil productivity and vegetation
  • wetlands, water quality and quantity
  • fish, wildlife, and their habitat
  • species at risk or species of special status and related habitat
  • heritage resources
  • traditional land and resource use
  • human health, aesthetics and noise

An environmental assessment also considers likely adverse environmental effects, proposed mitigation measures to protect the environment, and whether adverse environmental effects are likely, even after the mitigation measures are implemented. The process also provides an opportunity for meaningful public and Aboriginal participation.

Once an environmental assessment has been conducted, the NEB makes a decision or recommendation under the NEB Act or the COGOA.

4. How does the NEB define “navigable waters”?

A navigable water is presently defined by the Navigable Waters Protection Act as being “any body of water capable, in its natural state, of being navigated by floating vessels of any description for the purpose of transportation, recreation or commerce, and may also be a manmade feature such as a canal or reservoir”.

5. What are the requirements that NEB-regulated pipeline companies must follow for pipeline water crossings?

The NEB, through the Onshore Pipeline Regulations, 1999 (OPR-99), has requirements for pipeline companies to anticipate, prevent, manage and mitigate risks related to pipeline integrity, as well as protection of the environment at water crossings.

The Board’s OPR-99 incorporates the most recent Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standards for oil and gas pipelines, including standards specific to water crossings. CSA Z662-11 contains provisions for water crossings and includes the following minimum requirements:

  • Special attention is given to the physical characteristics of all crossings such as composition and stability of the banks, waves, currents, scouring, flooding, type and density of water-borne traffic. Through either engineering design calculations or engineering assessments the appropriate level of thickness of the pipe will be determined for the specific and anticipated loading conditions.
  • The pipe must either have a concrete coating, weight-coatings, river weights, screw anchors, or other means to protect and maintain the position of the pipeline.
  • An engineering assessment is required to determine proposed shut-off valve spacing. For example, high and low vapour pressure pipelines are required to have valves installed at major water crossings and at other locations appropriate for the terrain.
  • There must be regular inspection of water crossings for any safety/integrity concerns, for example insufficient depth of cover or accumulation of debris.
  • Warning signs are required to be installed at both banks at water crossings that warn of the existence of a pipeline (subject to marine traffic or dredging).
  • A feasibility study must be completed for water crossings constructed by horizontal directional drilling. A feasibility study would determine for example, whether it is technically feasible to drill under a river. There is also a requirement to evaluate and inspect all girth welds and pipe coating. Other types of water crossing construction must have other engineering requirements, for example assessment of loading, meaning an assessment of external forces on the pipe such as forces due to ground movement.

The NEB also enforces conditions set out in NEB orders, certificates and the commitments made in a company’s application and subsequent submissions. These conditions can be specific to water crossings. For example companies are required by the Board to minimize habitat disruption; to restore water channels to their original form; and to time construction so as to avoid critical marine life stages such as spawning or migration.

NEB inspectors have full authority to take enforcement actions. The Board can also take enforcement actions. Enforcement tools include:

  • verbal warnings for matters that can be immediately corrected;
  • written undertaking signed by a company representative that provides details on how compliance will be achieved and requiring follow-up within an agreed time frame;
  • Inspection Officer Orders, which outline specific measures or can even suspend work if a situation occurs that is hazardous to the environment or to the safety of the public; and/or,
  • Board Orders, which include specific measures including, pressure reduction or complete shutdown of operations.

6. How does the NEB currently regulate navigable waters?

Currently the Minister of Transport is the “appropriate authority” to approve NEB-regulated pipeline or electrical transmission line crossings of navigable waters (NEB Act s.108). The “appropriate authority” can authorize an applicant, by order, to construct a pipeline across a navigable water (NEB Act ss. 108(4)).

Transport Canada (TC) staff receive applications from NEB-regulated companies for crossings in, on, under, over, through or across navigable waters, proposed during construction and operation of projects under federal jurisdiction. TC determines navigability of the potentially affected waterbodies and the potential impacts of the project on navigation, including navigation safety, for example, whether the work may create impediments to navigation, or dangerous situations.

While the appropriate authority for crossing approvals is TC, approval of pipelines and power lines at water crossings remains subject to additional terms and conditions imposed by the Board as part of the NEB Act.

Under COGOA, NEB staff currently participate in environmental assessment processes of Northern Boards and Committees to assess navigation and navigation safety for authorizations and for Development Plan approvals under COGOA. Any components of projects in the North that require approval under the Navigable Waters Protection Act are provided by TC in a process that is parallel to but separate from the NEB process.

7. What would the NEB require companies to do if an incident occurred near a water crossing?

The National Energy Board holds regulated companies accountable for anticipating, preventing, mitigating and managing incidents of any size or duration. We expect regulated companies to develop a strong safety culture as part of their management system. Any release of product is considered unacceptable by the Board.

The NEB is the lead federal regulatory agency for all incidents that occur on NEB-regulated facilities or activities. In the event of an incident the NEB will assess the situation including any potential impacts to people and the environment, as well as monitor the companies’ response. The NEB will also verify that a regulated company conducts an adequate and appropriate clean-up and complete remediation of any environmental effects resulting from the incident. The NEB will not consider clean-up to be complete until it is satisfied that there has been full remediation of the site of all environmental effects. For more information please see the Board’s Remediation Process Guide.

8. What are the changes coming into effect as a result of the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act to the Navigable Waters and Fisheries Act?

As a result of the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act amendments have been made to the NEB Act and COGOA. Once in effect, these changes will give the NEB responsibilities for oversight of pipeline and international power line water crossings. As well, changes to the Fisheries Act will allow for delegation of fisheries and aquatic habitat at water crossings responsibilities to the NEB through the development of regulations. The changes will provide “one-window” regulatory oversight of NEB-regulated water crossings.

9. Will these changes reduce the NEB’s oversight on navigable waters?

No they will not. The NEB will continue to conduct an independent, fair and publically accessible environmental assessment and regulatory review process for projects under its jurisdiction. The NEB will continue to impose or recommend terms and conditions on project approvals as well as inspect and verify compliance in order to protect the safety of Canadians and environment.

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