Road hazards

There is pressure from some quarters for new pipelines to be kept out of farmland and laid along roads, as I have mentioned previously.  A little while ago I was asked whether the APIA/POG pipeline incident database could reveal anything about the relative safety of pipelines in roads and elsewhere.  The outcome was striking.

Consider first all external interference incidents (including both hits and near misses).  About 1/3 of all incidents occur within road reserves.  If we restrict the data to actual damage incidents then fully half occur within road reserves.  I need to qualify this by saying that older data (from before 2000) did not record land tenure so was omitted, which reduces the data available but also means that the data used reflects recent years.

We can take this a bit further by estimating what proportion of pipeline is laid in road reserves as opposed to general cross-country installation.  Unfortunately at this stage I can only guess, but it seems reasonable to guess a maximum of 1% of pipeline in roads (and in fact probably a lot less).  But if we work with 1%, that suggests that the 1% of pipeline in roads accounts for half of damage incidents.  Put another way, the damage rate in roads is 100 times higher than elsewhere if my 1% guess is correct, even higher if the road fraction is smaller.

All that is a really compelling argument to resist locating pipelines within road reserves.

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9 Responses to Road hazards

  1. Chris Hughes says:

    Unfortunately there are lots of compelling reasons for utilising road reserves for locating pipelines in road reserves, not least of which is the lack of any need to pay easement costs. When the Riverland pipeline was built in 1994 it was in road reserve (both developed and undeveloped) for the majority of its length: had it not been it would probably not have been built as the economics would have been against it.

    Personally I see nothing wrong with using road reserves as long as the risks are carefully considered and a proper design utilised to mitigate those risks as far as possible. The majority of work in road reserves is carried out by councils and utilities, and a good liaison procedure can mitigate threats from their activities to a large extent.

    It may be that only 1% of our pipelines are laid in road reserves: it is also true that 50% or thereabouts of our pipelines are laid in areas where the threat of third party interference is zero – in the case of some pipelines like the Moomba-Adelaide, the NT pipeline, the Carpentaria pipeline and the GGT this increases to 80% – 90%. Any comparison of incidents in road reserves versus other areas should only consider comparing areas where threats may occur, not look at the total length of pipe laid.

    • petertuft says:

      Firstly, “proper design” (complying with current AS 2885 requirements) in road reserves may (not necessarily) involve wall thickness that greatly diminishes the saving in easement costs. And it’s not just a cost question. The ALARP principle suggests to me that keeping pipelines out of locations known to have a much higher likelihood of damage can only be a positive thing even if it does cost a bit more.

      The 1% estimate and subsequent arithmetic was just a really rough guess and possibly gilding the lily. The fact remains that half of all damage incidents have occurred within roads. That speaks for itself.

  2. Chris Hughes says:

    Also people have a tendency to keep the pipeline as close to the edge of the reserve as possible when the safest location is probably right on the edge of (or even under) the trafficable surface.

    • petertuft says:

      Yes, others have expressed the same view privately. In fact it has been requested that the incident database be amended to record not only whether the incident occurred in a road reserve but whether it was under the pavement or elsewhere.

  3. Philip Venton says:

    This is a copy of a letter to The Land newspaper I wrote as Chair of ME-038-01 in response to ongoing articles in that newspaper pressing to move a pipeline proposed to supply ERM’s Wellington power station into road reserves. I subsequently had a long discussion with one of the landowner’s leading the protest. Copies of the letter went to APIA and ME-038.

    It is interesting to note that there does not appear to have been any further discussion of the matter in the paper.

    “Mr Charlie Thomas (NSW Farmers land use policy director) assertion that gas pipelines should use public land is flawed.
    Worldwide, high pressure gas, petroleum and mineral slurry pipelines are constructed, operated and maintained on routes that are generally cross country.
    Public lands (road easements) may be used for pipelines in metropolitan areas, and in a few locations where a road reserve is conveniently located and suitable for pipeline construction. They are also used for low pressure gas distribution pipelines because tenure is provided at no cost for public benefit.
    Cross country routes are usually selected for pipeline safety because:
    1. There is sufficient room to construct the pipeline with minimal land impact.
    2. The land is usually cleared – minimising a need to remove vegetation.
    3. The land is usually unoccupied by other services – minimising the likelihood of pipeline damage by external interference.
    4. The pipeline can be (and is) installed a safe distance beneath disturbance by farming operations, and it can usually be positioned to satisfy the needs of the landowner and allow him unrestricted beneficial use of the affected land.
    Public land (road reserves) are usually unsuitable because:
    1. A width of 20-30 metres is required for pipeline construction. Road reserves rarely have sufficient spare room.
    2. Road reserves usually contain remnant vegetation which would require removal to permit safe pipeline installation and maintenance.
    3. Road reserves contain frequent cut/fill areas to establish the road grade which interfere with safe pipeline construction.
    Pipeline developers and operators go to a greate deal of effort to locate pipelines in sympathy with the landowner needs, because this results in a safe pipeline.
    Please recognise that good (safe) pipeline route planning is an essential component of public safety for energy pipelines.”
    Phil Venton

  4. Chris Hughes says:

    Well said Phil, I don’t disagree with any of that! I was not advocating using road reserves in preference to cross country, merely pointing out what I believe is a flaw in Peter’s statistics.

  5. Chris Hughes says:

    I think we need to define here what we mean by “road reserve”. When our forefathers first started laying out their plans for this vast country of ours they were incredibly optimistic about its development and planned to have roads crisscrossing the land in huge numbers, so they ‘reserved’ the land for these roads in the form of strips one, two or three chains wide – sometimes even wider if they were intended as stock routes. In urban areas almost all of these reserves have had roads built in them, but the further we get away from the major population centres the more undeveloped road reserves we encounter.

    As Phil rightly points out these reserves, since they are not part of the adjoining farms, often contain the only remaining native vegetation and will not get environmental permission to be used for pipelines, but many are eminently suitable for consideration when determining a pipeline route. For instance a three chain reserve containing a single track bitumen or gravel road has ample spare room for pipeline construction. I have also come across several instances where the reserve has been incorporated into a farmer’s property without being transferred onto his title deed: this can be used without easement payments as it is still Crown land.

    Where the reserve has been developed and is used by many utilities it is probably not the best choice for a pipeline route for the reasons enumerated above, but let’s make sure we know what sort of reserves we are talking about before blithely condemning them all.

    • petertuft says:

      Fair point. I was thinking of typical country roads in the areas where landowners are most vociferous in their objections to cross-country pipelines – a road reserve only one chain (20 m) wide and often also containing at least a wood-pole power line and a buried Telstra cable, and sometimes other services. You are right that in other parts of the country there are road reserves (and roads) where the risk to pipelines is perhaps negligibly greater than in open paddocks.

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