Why Risk Indexing Is Vital in Prioritizing ROW Hazard Tasks

Why Risk Indexing Is Vital in Prioritizing ROW Hazard Tasks

Companies understand that any right-of-way project requires accurate risk indexing. They devote a massive amount of resources to index the risks before, during, and after each project. But why is risk indexing so vital?

Risk indexing is vital in prioritizing ROW hazard tasks. It helps planners to identify the likelihood of hazards and the potential impact these hazards can have on both the right-of-way and surrounding areas. This enables planners to allocate resources to where they’re needed most.

What is Risk Indexing

Before discussing its importance, we must explain what risk indexing is. Risk indexing is the identification and prioritization of potential hazards and risks to a ROW. This is important because risks with a higher likelihood of occurrence require more time, attention, and resources. This can’t happen if right-of-way managers are unaware of potential risks.

Added risks could include safety hazards, financial hazards, environmental hazards, and even legal hazards. They may also include risks the right-of-way could pose to the local area.

ROW managers, for example, need to be aware of environmentally sensitive areas to reduce the impact of a right-of-way. They are known as EGHCA class areas and are EPA regulated and monitored.

Once these risks are identified and added to the index, they’ll be categorized and scored so that each hazard can be appropriately prioritized. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for indexing risk, so some ROW management teams may categorize risks differently than others. But, they all have the same end goal of identifying potential risks and determining which risks need more resources and which don’t.

What Are ROW Hazards and Right-of-Way Hazard Tasks

Right-Of-Way hazards can include:

  • Safety Hazards
  • Financial Hazards
  • Environmental Hazards
  • Legal Hazards

Right-of-way Safety Hazards

Safety hazards can be as simple as new workers slipping and falling on the right-of-way during construction. In fact, Supreme Industries did an investigation and found that 70% of the slip, trip, and fall injuries occurred to employees who had been with the company for less than 6 months. Armed with this information, the company was able to design a training program that dropped these slip, trip, and fall injuries down to zero.


Using analytics, we can assess where there is potential for geohazard activity, like a landslide.

Another example of a safety hazard is that certain roadside rights-of-way might be more dangerous than others. ROW planners could mitigate this risk by installing additional physical barriers that would ensure the safety of the workers as well as the right-of-way itself.

Environmental Hazards

Different ROWs may be subjected to various environmental hazards as well. For example, a right-of-way near the mountains of Colorado might be vulnerable to avalanches while a ROW in Florida might have to worry about hurricanes or flooding.

While the environment may put the ROW at risk, the right-of-way could also potentially endanger the environment. Rights-of-way in or around areas with at-risk habitats will need to take steps to ensure that they have no adverse effects on these areas. Risk indexing helps to identify these locations along the ROW.

Legal Hazards

A long pipeline project could have a right-of-way that stretches for many miles. Midstream pipeline builders and operators will have to work with local governments, private property owners and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to establish agreements to operate in certain areas.

Sometimes, even after starting a project, legal issues may arise around these agreements. Different states and localities may have different laws on how these issues are resolved, making legal problems riskier in some areas of the country than others.

Slip/Slope Failure

For most right-of-way projects, the most substantial hazard could be slope failure. This is especially true with pipelines. The reason for this is that pipelines typically run over long distances and will almost always run near mountainous terrain where landslides are likely to develop.

A slope failure will result in a landslide that could endanger the safety of builders, pipeline operators, the surrounding areas, and the actual pipeline itself. Compromised slopes can lead to mud slipping down into sensitive areas of the pipeline. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, landslides have damaged millions of cubic meters of pipelines.

Financial Hazards of ROWs

Improper risk prioritization, or lack thereof, can lead to costly financial repercussions. Many ROW hazards that may have previously been restored quickly with the help of risk indexing might well end up costing exponentially more later on. Catching issues sooner, rather than later, is a priority for any company. It can often save a considerable amount of time and money in the forms of preventable labor, legal, environmental, and other costs.

For example, slope failures can lead to landslides and, as a result, cause massive damage to pipelines, ROWs, and surrounding areas and is almost always costly. If residences or environmentally sensitive areas are affected as well, the total end cost will rise, and legal troubles could ensue. Preventing these incidents with proper risk indexing enables appropriate resource and labor allocation and can be vastly more economical than paying for cleanup, restoration, and restitution after the fact.

Why Is Risk Indexing Vital

Keeping workers safe is vital to any pipeline project. Risk indexing can let project managers know where the most immediate danger lies within the ROW, so they can focus on improving safety in these areas.

Protecting the surrounding environment. Risk indexing can also help right-of-way planners determine which habitats are most affected by pipeline construction and maintenance. These areas can then have more resources allocated to them to help mitigate any potential damage to the local environment.

Profits can also be increased by proper risk indexing. That’s because risk indexing ensures money goes to the areas that need it most. It also minimizes escalation of costs caused by delayed maintenance.

It also helps to keep pipeline construction on schedule. This is because it helps predict potential problems that may otherwise have shut down pipeline activities.

How Is Risk Indexing Accomplished

The book, Risk Assessment in Setting National Priorities, states that “to be cost-effective, a prioritization system must be simple, rapid, and accurate.” For this reason, many companies use UAVs designed to map and monitor a ROWs geography. To demonstrate the risk indexing process, let’s look at how a UAV company could create a risk index for landslips along a pipeline project.

Landslips Along Pipelines

A UAV monitoring company might start the process by creating a baseline map to identify and eliminate any immediate concerns. The UAV could locate several slopes to be rebuilt along a ROW. Slope repair contractors could move in and restore the slope before even starting construction in a right-of-way. The slopes deemed to be the greatest danger are rated higher so work can start on them first.

UAVs will then be used to monitor the ROW continuously, looking out for actual slip movement and to create predictive assessments. Moving slopes and those that could pose a greater hazard to sensitive areas will be moved up the risk index. Upon completion, UAVs can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the remediation efforts.

Environmentally Sensitive Areas

UAV monitoring not only protects the pipeline but also protects environmentally sensitive areas. For example, UAV monitoring can be used to create a two-tiered analysis to monitor what happens to the ground and its potential environmental risk. This type of monitoring is especially critical in areas running through or around at-risk habitats.


Monitoring the surface hydrology through UAV imagery and analytics can protect environmentally sensitive areas

Monitoring an area using UAVs will help the pipeline to comply with EPA regulations and any other governing bodies concerned with the potential impacts of the ROW and pipeline. Doing so will also help to keep the company in good standing with the public. This is critical as a poor public image could impede the construction of new projects in the future. Conversely, a positive public image could make it easier and faster for the company to obtain the approvals it needs to create new projects.

In these cases, heat maps are usually created to allow right-of-way managers to see, at a glance, which areas should take top priority and receive the most resources. Commonly the color coding system uses dark red to denote areas that are most at risk.

Final Thoughts

Risk indexing is a complex process that involves many different areas of a ROW. With the help of specialized knowledge and expertise, as well as the latest in UAV technology, this process can be simple, cost-effective, and accurate.

Solspec is serious about risk indexing. We know that keeping pipeline projects on time, keeping workers safe, and reducing the environmental impact are all critical to your project’s success. We are proud to have some of the fastest data turnaround times in the industry. To find out how Solspec can help you with hazard identification, indexing, and more, check out our ROW integrity management page.

Why Continuous Monitoring Is Essential to ROW Management

Why Continuous Monitoring Is Essential to ROW Management

An enormous amount of time, energy, and resources are devoted to the maintenance of ROWs. Unfortunately, all of this effort and money can be wasted through improper management. Because of this, it is essential that right-of-way management teams have all the information they need to be successful.

Why is continuous monitoring indispensable to a ROW management plan? Continuous monitoring gives companies the ability to easily track the progress of the project, manage vegetation growth, detect hazards, keep the environment safe, and manage stormwater runoff. Let’s look at why this is important.

Tracking the Project’s Progress

A ROW covers hundreds of miles and the projects they are based around can often take years to complete. These projects must adhere to proposed budgets and timelines. It’s crucial for right-of-way management teams to accurately track the progress of their project, so they know whether they’re on schedule or they need to make changes.

For example, an oil and gas pipeline project uses its ROW to build, operate, inspect and maintain its pipelines. This makes the right-of-way a critical component of laying the pipeline in place as running it is not feasible or even safe if the foundations for the right-of-way are not adequately prepared.

Managing Vegetation Growth

Once the right-of-way is in place, it can be encroached upon by natural vegetation. Managing this vegetation growth is crucial or serious problems can occur.

For example, the EPA found that overgrown trees were the cause of the massive blackouts on August 14, 2003, in both the United States and Canada. These blackouts affected over 50 million people and cost the American economy $7-$10 billion. This entire situation could have been avoided if the trees were simply inspected, cut back or taken down where appropriate.

Keeping the Environment Safe

stormwater management example
Aerial imagery and analysis support detailed reporting required to stay in compliance.

Critical habitat compliance is an integral part of any right-of-way management plan. This helps to keep endangered species from peril and strengthens the local environment around the ROW. It also helps people comply with the FWS, and any other state and local government agencies regulating local wildlife safety.

Continuous monitoring can help the management team immediately identify and rectify any intrusion into nearby endangered species habitats. This keeps wildlife safe from harm and the company safe from litigation.

Managing Stormwater Runoff

Mismanaged stormwater runoff can cause many problems for both the infrastructure found within the rights-of-way as well as the areas surrounding it. Stormwater can pollute local waterways and can cause flooding which can damage the right-of-way, the project found within, as well as the local community.

These floods can become safety concerns and can even open up the right-of-way management team to legal issues. Therefore, many state and federal regulators have strict enforcement procedures managing stormwater runoff.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, for example, asks sites for their specific plans to deal with stormwater runoff. Once these plans are in place, the right-of-way management company must work within these parameters. This is not possible without continuous monitoring of the area.

Detecting Hazards

Other hazards may pose an even greater risk to the ROW. For example, slope degradation can occur which will eventually lead to landslips. According to Access Science, “every year, landslides claim thousands of lives and cause considerable economic damage to buildings, roads, and other infrastructure around the world.”

Landslides can form as a result of human interference as well as natural causes like rainfall and snowmelt. Unstable slope conditions can occur overnight which often makes them difficult to detect before they become a problem.

Continuous monitoring helps reduce this issue as problems can be detected as they form. Once at-risk slopes are discovered, they can be repaired or modified to prevent a landslip event.

This process of continuous monitoring for landslides doesn’t have to be labor-intensive. Hazard detection software can be used to predict where issues are most likely to occur. This software can detect slope grade changes, inspect soils, and predict landslides long before they occur.

How to Continuously Monitor a ROW

Because of how important it is to monitor a right-of-way, you may be wondering how continuous monitoring is accomplished. There are two ways that you can do this. The first is ground-based monitoring systems and the second is aerial monitoring.

Ground-based monitoring is done with trucks, ATVs, and people. Aerial monitoring can be done with planes, helicopters, UAVs, and even satellites.

Ground-Based Monitoring Vs. Aerial Monitoring

In years past, inspectors would have to inspect everything from the ground or from aircraft such as planes and helicopters. Aerial monitoring was expensive but still better than ground monitoring. This was because some areas of a ROW could be challenging to access, and many rights-of-way are hundreds of miles long making them hard to continuously manage without an extensive inspection team.

Aerial monitoring enabled inspectors to cover hundreds of miles in a single day and gave them easy access to areas otherwise difficult to reach. Unfortunately, this was expensive, and still required people to fly the planes and inspectors to sit inside the aircraft.

Today it relies more on technology and airborne vehicles equipped with LiDAR and photogrammetry equipment to make monitoring activities much less labor-intensive. These technologies, combined with advanced prediction and monitoring software, make it efficient and accurate.
stormwater management example
Planting vegetation is one of the many ways to mitigate the movement of earth on pipelines.

What Is the Best Type of Aerial Monitoring System

As discussed earlier, there are a few different aerial monitoring systems that can be used to monitor a right-of-way. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll discuss in the rest of this section.

Current aerial monitoring systems include:

Helicopter and Airplane monitoring. It’s expensive, often requiring large amounts of fuel. Monitoring this way can also be inconvenient for local residents and poses higher risks. For example, flying large aircraft near residential areas increases the likelihood of crashing.

On the other hand, airplanes and helicopters can carry heavy monitoring equipment as well as people. This means the instant an issue is detected, people can be dropped off at the site to physically inspect the area.

Satellite monitoring is excellent for covering large areas as it can watch over all of these areas at one time. It also excels in monitoring areas when high wind conditions make this impossible by aircraft.

The drawback to this technology is that it’s costly and can only provide a bird’s eye view of the ROW. This means that hazards such as weak slopes that are located under dense vegetation may never be seen by the satellite.

UAV monitoring, on the other hand, is extremely flexible and can often inspect areas that even small planes and helicopters cannot. It is also a much more cost-effective solution than satellites, airplanes, and helicopters. A multitude of UAVs can be used to monitor large swaths of a ROW for a fraction of what it would cost to monitor these areas with just one plane or one helicopter.

These advantages make UAVs the most efficient and effective type of continuous monitoring a right-of-way can employ. As UAV and detection software technology continues to improve this will become even more evident.

How Are UAVs Used to Monitor ROWs

To demonstrate how UAVs are used to monitor ROWs, we’ll talk about the most critical component of monitoring a right-of-way; the detection and prevention of landslides. Landslides pose a significant safety risk to the people and infrastructure working inside a right-of-way. For this reason, it is vitally important that they are detected before they are triggered.

A landslide occurs when a slope becomes unstable. Heavy rains, snow melts, and even human intervention can cause this instability. Fortunately, this instability can often be seen before it results in a real landslide.

UAVs can detect this instability as it happens by first creating 3D maps of the right-of-way and surrounding areas. Once these maps are created, the UAV will continue to create new maps with each flight. Early detection software can compare these maps to look for any differences.

Upon identifying a potential problem area, a UAV can be sent to take a closer look. It can use photogrammetry to take pictures that human inspectors can examine. This helps speed up the detection process and aids in keeping human inspectors out of harm’s way. It also helps to inform slope repair crews of the dangers and challenges they’ll face during the repair before entering the affected area.

Final Thoughts

With today’s technology, all parts of a right-of-way can be monitored continuously. There are many efficient and cost-effective solutions to meet almost any management plan’s budget constraints. Continuous monitoring should, therefore, be a part of every right-of-way management plan. It is the responsible thing to do.

Since 2016, SolSpec has helped identify possible landslide areas near pipelines. Our company is helping maintain safe pipeline rights-of-way using the latest in landslide prediction models and software.

How Technology Helps Meet FERC & PHMSA Pipeline Regulations

How Technology Helps Meet FERC & PHMSA Pipeline Regulations

While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are not the only regulatory bodies involved in the creation, operation, and maintenance of pipelines, they are the dominant players in this industry. Complying with the regulations set forth by these bodies helps pipeline companies stay safe, legal, and profitable. Fortunately, the proper use of technology makes compliance easy.

Knowing how technology helps meet FERC & PHMSA pipeline regulations is critical to the success of any pipeline project. Technology helps determine the profitability and feasibility of running a pipeline, it helps with construction planning, and it helps monitor installed pipelines and the surrounding areas for safety.

In this article, we will look at how technology has the ability to impact four phases of FERC and PHMSA pipeline regulations. These are:

1. Technology’s role in the Pre-Construction Phase

2. Technology’s role During Pipeline Construction

3. Using Technology in Pipeline Operation and Maintenance

4. How Technology Helps Record Keeping

So let’s break it down…

1. Technology’s Role in the Pre-Construction Phase

Before a pipeline is even created, companies must determine whether or not the endeavor will be profitable. This is a requirement of FERC and companies must submit this information to FERC before they can get approval to run their pipelines.

Additionally, companies must gather right-of-way information, survey data, adjacent landowner information as well as tax jurisdiction information. This must often be done over a pipeline project that may span for hundreds of miles.

Technology helps in this pre-construction phase in many ways, including the following:

· Drones for Aerial Mapping

· Flood Mitigation

· Slip Potential Analysis

· Soil Moisture Content Analysis

Now let’s examine them…

Drones and Aerial Mapping In the Pre-Construction Phase

To help with the collection of all of this data, drones can be used in conjunction with advanced software systems to create maps and to help survey the area. This helps cover large areas quickly and reduces the need for surveyors to require access hard to reach areas.

The data can then be used to create what is known as a geographic information system, or GIS. A GIS is a software system that helps gather information needed to comply with both FERC and the PHMSA. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, “A GIS can contain all the information needed for right-of-way management and taxation, adjacent landowner’s information, survey data, emergency response plans, and situation reports for the pipe.”

Once this is done, drones can use remote sensing technologies to identify areas prone to flooding, to collect soil moisture data, and to check for terrain stability.

Flood Mitigation and Slip Risk Evaluation

Knowing how much flood mitigation and landslide protection needs to be done before starting a project helps companies provide profitability projects to FERC. This same data also helps provide safety information that they can then relay to the PHMSA.

If you’re unfamiliar with this organization, the PHMSA’s primary purpose is to ensure the safety of pipelines. In their own words, the “PHMSA is responsible for regulating and ensuring the safe and secure movement of hazardous materials to industry and consumers by all modes of transportation, including pipelines.” You can read the rest of their mission statement at https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/phmsa-regulations.

Soil Moisture Content

An area’s soil moisture content will help construction companies determine what type of equipment they’ll need to excavate the land. This is a determining factor in the initial cost analysis of the project which helps the business determine whether or not to run the pipeline in the first place.

2. Technology’s Role During Pipeline Construction

Technology’s involvement in meeting FERC & PHMSA pipeline regulations doesn’t end in the planning stages of a pipeline project. Among the technologies utilized during pipeline construction are:

· Sensors, Advanced Protective Coatings, and X-rays

· Smart Pig Inspections

· Hydrostatic Testing

Here are the details…

Sensors, Advanced Protective Coatings, and X-Rays in Pipeline Construction

They utilize the same sensors used in the pre-construction phase to help ensure there aren’t any landslide or flood risks that may harm the pipeline, the workers, or the surrounding areas. The drones are also used to keep an eye on vegetation growth so that vegetation management can be completed before it becomes a problem for the pipeline.

Technology even plays a role in the creation of the pipes used in the pipeline itself. Advanced protective coatings are applied to help protect against corrosion. Corrosion is one of the biggest causes of pipe degradation, and any technology that protects against corrosion will also help protect the pipeline and the surrounding areas from leaks and spills.

Once the pipes are connected and corrosion protection is applied, x-rays are done on the weld joints to ensure that there are no issues surrounding them.

Smart Pig Pipeline Inspections

Lastly, smart pig inspections and hydrostatic testing technology may be used to assure the pipes will be able to hold more pressure than needed while in operation.

A smart pig is a pipeline inspection gauge that runs through the pipe looking for potential defects. If it finds any defects, it will transmit location data back to the pipeline company so that they can make the proper repairs.

Hydrostatic Testing

Hydrostatic testing uses water to test for leaks and can be used along the entire pipeline or in specific areas where smart pig testing was not sufficient enough to determine the safety of the pipeline.

These tests confirm the integrity of the pipeline and identify weak areas so that the pipeline will meet the safety guidelines laid down by the PHMSA.

3. Using Technology in Pipeline Operation and Maintenance

Technology is especially critical in the ongoing operation and maintenance of a pipeline. FERC will want to keep information on taxes, tariffs, and market trading and the PHMSA will want to ensure that the pipeline is safe and that there isn’t any leakage or spills. SCADA, satellites, sensors, drones, and robotics all have an active part in todays pipeline operations and maintenance.

Here are some of the ways technology is implemented after construction is completed, for the operations and maintenance of the pipelines:

· Supervisory control & data acquisitions software

· Satellites

· Sensors and automated Controls

· Drones and Data Visualization

· Robotics

So let’s dig in and see how…

Using SCADA In Pipeline Operations

Supervisory control & data acquisitions software, otherwise known as SCADA, can help with this. SCADA works by taking real-time data from a controller and presenting it to an operator. The operator can then use this information to react to alarms, control processes, and change settings.

This data is collected through field instruments and sent to the controller through communication networks. Field instruments and communication networks can vary from pipeline to pipeline. However, the most common field instruments in the pipeline industry are sensors, pumps, and valves. The most common communication network is a wireless network, but sometimes a combination of wired and wireless networks can also be employed.

Use of Satellites in Pipeline Operations

Often-times satellites will be used to help transmit data through the network. This is especially helpful when the pipeline is running through remote areas where it just isn’t possible to use existing towers to supply wireless connectivity.

Additionally, using in-house satellites ensures that the pipeline has full control over their network at all times. This helps to increase safety and makes the pipeline more self- sufficient.

Using Sensors for Pipeline Safety and Real-Time Response

Examples of sensors are proximity sensors, temperature sensors, and level sensors. The information captured by these sensors can be used to detect leaks and to set pump speeds. Controllers can use valves to shut down operations quickly if a problem was to arise.

Additionally, a SCADA can chart historical data and help with making future predictions. This allows companies, as well as government agencies, to determine how much energy is being used and how much production is needed to fulfill local demands.

The information collected is vital to ensuring the safety of the pipeline as well as the profitability of the pipeline. It also ensures that customers will always have a steady and reliable source of power.

Technological advancement in the instruments used to provide safety checks has also made pipelines much safer to operate. Sonar, as well as ultrasound technology, makes it easy to check for pipe corrosion, dents, cracks, and any other pipeline defects. This, in turn, makes it easy for pipeline companies to comply with all PHMSA safety regulations.

Drones and Aerial Data Visualization in Pipeline Maintenance and Operation

Drones and geographic information systems are also used during the maintenance and operational phases of a pipeline. They will continue to be used for slip protection and flood protection. Using drones in this manner ensures that potential slips can be dealt with long before they occur.

SolSpec is the industry leader and go-to partner for aerial analytics solutions to pipeline projects. We have been focused on helping pipeline construction projects and maintenance longer than any other drone company. We know how to provide pipeline construction companies and operators alike meet FERC and PHMSA regulations quickly and affordably.

Robotics in Pipeline Maintenance

According to Penn State University, robotics is also being used to help quickly detect and repair potential problem areas within the pipes as they begin to form. These robots are placed inside the pipes and are used to apply sealants to weak areas such as pipe joints. The advantage of this is that all of the repairs are happening inside of the pipe, meaning underground pipes do not need to be excavated before these repairs can be made.

4. How Technology Helps Record Keeping

Technology also helps with the process of reporting information from the pipeline company to both FERC and the PHMSA. PHMSA reports can easily be accessed over the Internet on their website at https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/forms/operator-reports-submitted-phmsa-forms-and-instructions. To report information to FERC, companies can create an online account at https://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ferconline.asp. Within this account, they can submit their documents electronically.

While this type of technological advancement might not be as exciting as the use of robots, it has revolutionized the way companies interact with these two organizations. Online filing and record keeping reduces the time and energy involved in complying with these two agencies and creates a more cooperative environment.

In Summary

A combination of online record keeping, advanced software systems, and the utilization of drones, robots, and inspection equipment has helped pipelines to meet both FERC and PHMSA regulations with ease. This has all helped to make the pipeline industry safer and more efficient than ever before.

For a more detailed look at one of these technologies, drone inspections, take a look at our article, Midstream Oil and Gas Drone Inspections Simplify Compliance (link here as soon as the article is posted), where we discuss use of drones for inspections in more detail, along with their many advantages.