Inside the Underground World of Right of Way
Building and maintaining the pipelines that carry natural gas and crude oil is a vital component to providing the energy that runs our world. While the nation’s 2.6 million miles of pipelines have proven to be the safest way to convey petrochemicals, transporting hazardous materials is difficult and requires unwavering attention to detail at every step—from initial route planning through long-term pipeline maintenance.
For a complete picture in establishing a viable pipeline route, planners have three top priorities:
- Accessing an accurate view of the parcel fabric; the continuous surface of connected parcels that lie between the well and pipeline destination
- Obtaining parcel ownership details and understanding property characteristics
- Gathering current oil and gas leasehold data for surrounding areas.
We will explore three potential scenarios encountered by Right of Way Operators—from relatively simple to complex. Our goal is to demonstrate that regardless of the project’s complexity, even the most challenging complications can be manageable with access to the right information.
Perfect World Scenario: Everyone knows that shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The “Perfect-world” scenario assumes that not only is a straight line the shortest distance between two points, but it is also the fastest. The parcel-fabric map of connected properties shows a line stretching from point A to point B. Each ribbon segment represents a parcel held by an owner who has signed a right-of-way agreement, making this the path to least resistance, and the fastest to profitability.
However, realizing the world is not always perfect, let’s move on to the next scenario.
Real World Scenario: In the real world the most direct, straight line, approach is rarely an option. Many factors must be considered and a wide variety of potential obstacles exist, including: geographical, topographical, environmental, areas of natural hazard risk, cultural, and man-made. Navigating these obstacles quickly and in a timely fashion requires a wide variety of data to accurately assess the challenges presented and quickly identify the best options to move forward. As an example; some property owners will not be receptive to right of way on their property. In these instances, alternate routes can be quickly identified through quality property data to keep projects on track.
Additional complexity is added to the Real World scenario when you consider the High Consequence Area (HCA) scenario.
The Added HCA Scenario: To protect public safety and the environment, federal and state regulations impose strict guidelines on pipeline placement. Restrictions are predictably stringent near areas defined in the regulation as “High-Consequence” which include populated areas, areas containing vulnerable populations, drinking water sources, and unusually sensitive ecological areas.
Regulations vary depending on such items as; the material being carried, type and size of the pipeline, and pipeline pressure. In some instances, utility lines and pipelines cross areas of higher risk. Identifying high risk land use such as schools, nursing homes, and hospitals or high risk environmental features such as water bodies, and allows companies to avoid areas that will increase risk and expense for their projects. Within the Banking and Real Estate industries land use data and flood data are used to identify quality of life and appropriate borrowing protections for given areas. In right of way planning the same data are used to ensure compliance with regulatory practices and ensure vulnerable populations and resources are protected. Different use cases being supported by the same data.
The complex, time-intensive processes underlying pipeline planning and right of way negotiations can lead to profit-draining delays. Streamlining the route planning process with the right data can greatly increase efficiency and profitability.
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