Permitting and Easements

As in traditional pipeline or utility construction projects, there are numerous federal, state, and local agencies that may be involved in HDD crossings. Large projects or projects on federal land typically require a lead agency to coordinate the permit-application process and to monitor construction compliance with the applicable permits. The U.S, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Energy

Regulatory Commission may act as lead agencies. HDD projects on private or state property are often regulated by the state's Public Utility Commission, Department of Transportation, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Department of Forestry. They usually enforce state regulations and may report to the federal agencies. The majority of the regulatory requirements are either environmentally driven or deal with right-of-way and encroachment issues.

While all construction projects are subject to environmental concerns, pipeline projects typically are subject to the greatest amount of regulation. The environmental issues that typically concern HDD include:

  • Access restrictions due to wetlands, streams, endangered plant or animal life, endangered habitat, and potential erosion
  • Oil and fuel spills from construction equipment
  • Drilling-fluid surface spills that endanger animal and plant life
  • Drilling fluid returns in water bodies
  • Groundwater contamination from drilling-fluid additives
  • Drilling-fluid disposal locations (The contractor must obtain approval to dispose of the drilling fluid at an approved disposal location. Bentonite is a good product for sealing drainage ditches, irrigation reservoirs, and livestock ponds. However, approval must be obtained from the proper regulatory agency.)

In contrast to the above, many utility projects do not have significant environmental issues, but they often locate the product pipe or cable within the local or state right of ways. Right-of-way and easement issues typically involve getting permission from the appropriate agency or individual to place the HDD product pipe in the easement or right of way. The owner or developer provides the appropriate agency with proposed HDD project information such as:

  • Facility information and details such as project type (communication, water, gas, etc.)
  • System capacities, pressures, etc.
  • Construction plans based on scalable mapping in accordance with the submission requirements
  • Pipeline alignment (dimensioned)
  • Existing utility information
  • Depths of cover and clearances, including all above- and below-grade structures
  • Specific installation requirements or typical installation parameters indicating the design bending radius and diameter(s)
  • Assumed subsurface geotechnical conditions based on experience, USDA Soil Survey data, or site-specific soils reports
  • Traffic-control plans in accordance with the appropriate agency requirements
  • Stormwater-pollution prevention plans as required by the appropriate agency

Many projects require that various environmental permits be obtained from the appropriate agency before construction begins. For environmentally sensitive (or potentially sensitive) HDD crossings an environmental permitting plan should be prepared. The plan is used to identify all the permitting requirements and provide a list of the required permits (for example, USAE NWP-12 for utility-line crossings), the time needed to prepare them, and an estimated date of issuance. Items that are typically considered in an environmental plan are solid and hazardous materials and waste management, wetlands, burial grounds, land use, air pollution, noise, water supply and discharge, traffic control, and river and railroad transportation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USAE) regulates activities involving interstate bodies of water, including marshes and tributaries, as well as intrastate waters that can affect interstate or foreign commerce. The organization is responsible for work affecting such waterways, including the headwaters of freshwater streams, wetlands, swamps, and lakes. The Regional District Engineer of the USAE will advise applicants about the types of permits required for proposed projects. In addition, state and/or local agency environmental review and permitting may be required. For railroad crossings, the engineering representative of the railroad should be consulted about the approved methods of crossing the line.

All HDD construction activities should be performed in accordance with the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) as regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as state and local requirements. The contractor should implement best management practices to ensure that any stormwater runoff is not contaminated by the sediment caused by land disturbances associated with the construction activities. The following seven goals are primary functions of effective stormwater-pollution prevention planning:

  1. Ensure that sediment controls are in place prior to disturbance.
  2. Maintain sediment controls throughout the construction and restoration processes.
  3. Minimize the overall disturbance whenever possible.
  4. Protect disturbed areas throughout the construction process.
  5. Prevent stormwater runoff from entering disturbed areas.
  6. Never intentionally discharge construction contaminants directly into creeks, rivers, ditches, or storm systems.
  7. Complete permanent restoration as soon as possible.

In addition to the overall goals stated above, the contractor should, at a minimum, implement the following specific practices:

  1. Provide temporary erosion protection whenever possible.
  2. Mulch, seed, or gravel may be applied even if a disturbed area may and/or will be disturbed again or other permanent measures of stabilization are to follow.
  3. Cover spoil piles with a tarp or contain with a sediment barrier.
  4. Contain disturbed sediment on site.
  5. Use sediment barriers such as silt fencing, sandbags, straw bales, rock checks, and/or traps to contain sediment on the construction site.
  6. Existing vegetation may be used as a sediment filter where minimal grades and sheet flow runoff will occur.
  7. Ensure that all sediment barriers are installed and functioning properly.
  8. Avoid causing flooding in roadways and adjacent rights-of-way.
  9. Do not block existing culverts and storm inlets except as a last resort.
  10. Ensure that sediment is removed from sediment traps and filters after all storms.

Access to the project area is another factor that should be considered early in the planning phase. Many HDD crossings are in remote areas without immediate access to the project site. The cost of temporary and/or construction access easements can be costly. Usually the HDD equipment is required on both sides of the crossing. One way to minimize cost is to look for crossing locations with access to both sides from an improved road. Another option is to use the pipeline right-of-way for access to the HDD crossing. For most HDD project all required access agreements are provided by the owner.

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