Orhan Degermenci
Author: Orhan Degermenci
Dr. Orhan Degermenci (BSc., M.E. and PhD in Petroleum Engineering from the Technical Univeristy of Clausthal in Germany) with his full-time of 28+ years job experience is involved as both lead and specialist engineer in engineering design (FEED & DD & EPC & PMC and O&M Projects) of numerous oil+gas+water+refinery product piping & pipelines.
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A strip of land usually about 10 to 50 meter wide containing the pipeline is known as the pipeline right-of-way (ROW). The ROW enables workers to gain access for inspection, maintenance, testing or emergencies.

Pipeline Right of Way - Introduction

It maintains an unobstructed view for frequent aerial surveillance and identifies an area that restricts certain activities to protect the landowner, the community through which the pipeline passes and the pipeline itself. While permanent pipeline markers are located at roads, railways and other intervals along the ROW, these show only the approximate location of the buried pipelines. The depth and location of the pipelines vary within the ROW. The ROW exists in many kinds of terrain from river crossings and cultivated fields to urban areas. Because of this, there is no distinct "look" to the ROW (Fig. 2.1-1). 

Definition of pipeline right of way

A pipeline right-of-way is a strip of land over and around pipelines where some of the property owner's legal rights have been granted to a pipeline company. A right-of-way agreement between the pipeline company and the property owner is also called an easement and is usually filed in the public records with property deeds. Rights-of-ways and easements provide a permanent, limited interest in the land that enables the pipeline company to operate, test, inspect, repair, maintain, replace, and protect one or more pipelines on property owned by others. The agreement may vary the rights and widths of the right-of-way, but generally, the pipeline company's right-of-way extends 10 meter wide from each side of a pipeline, unless special conditions exist.

The temporary pipeline construction right of way width typically spans several meters depending upon diameter of the pipeline. After construction, the permanent right of way will be about half as wide. Vegetation will be allowed to grow back on all of the right of way, and farmers from nearby villages will be allowed to grow crops on the reclaimed land. However, trees will be kept out of the narrow 10 to 15 meter wide permanent right of way so that their roots do not damage the buried pipe and so that the right of way remains visible for periodic aerial inspections during pipeline operation.

Pipeline right of way after construction

For instance, as shown on the above photo (Fig. 2.1-2) for a natural gas pipeline, plants have begun to turn the pipeline right of way green again, just a few months after the first sections of the pipeline were buried. Vegetation from the adjacent jungle has naturally colonized the easement and is growing in topsoil that was stockpiled during construction and then returned to the right of way during reclamation.

Comparison of the pipeline right of way

These two aerial photographs (Fig. 2.1-3) compare a location during pipeline construction (left) and three months later after reclamation of the right of way (right).

Land Acquisition

Since pipelines have to cross the countryside to deliver products over long distances, the pipeline has many neighbors. The pipeline crosses under creeks and rivers, highways and roads, farmers’ fields, parks, whereas it may also be close to the homes, businesses or other community centers.

Written agreements or easements between landowners and pipeline companies allow these pipeline companies to construct and maintain their pipelines within the rights of way located across privately owned property. Most pipelines are buried below ground in a right-of-way. The working space needed during initial construction may be temporarily wider, but the permanent right-of-way width varies depending on the easement, the pipeline system (e.g. line pipe diameter), the presence of other nearby utilities and the land use along the rights of way. Many of the rights of way are 15 meter wide, but may be wider or narrower in specific locations.

These rights-of-way are kept clear to allow the pipeline to be safely operated, aerially surveyed and properly maintained. Pipeline companies are responsible for maintaining their rights-of-way to protect the public and environment, the line itself, and other customers from loss of service. Pipeline rights-of-way are located in urban, suburban, and rural communities.

The procedures indicated in this section are subject to qualification by statutory obligations imposed by local or national legislation. The resonsibility for acquiring the necessary land and easements, and rights rests with the promotor. These may be obtained by private negotiations with the owners and/or occupiers concerned, or by compulsory powers, or by a combination of both.

If compulsory powers are deemed necessary, the procedure established by local or national legislation should be observed. Promoters should, at an early stage, consult representative bodies such as farmers, landowners and other associations (if any) and should make full use of professional advice in negotiating by private treaty. The practical considerations and aims set out in the following clauses apply, irrespective of whether the land is acquired by compulsory purchase or by private treaty.

Access for Survey and Route Selection

Although much can be done from planes by aerial survey, route selection requires access to the ground and may often necessitate trial borings, for which the consent of owners or occupiers of the concerned land must be sought individually. It is imposssible to obtain marginal powers of deviation or to undertake private treaty negotiations unless the route is settled within these limits of deviation. Normally, a full indemnity to pay for all damages done during the preliminary survey will suffice to acquire temporary rights which lapse after the survey is undertaken. The need to make an unnecessarily large number of entries on to land can be avoided by previous full consultation with the local Planning Authority, usually the Country Council for the area concerned, and with other local authorities, who will, from their local knowledge, and from their own plans for the future, assist the promotor to avoid land scheduled for future development. Route selection will be affected by many factors, e.g. locations already accommodating underground or overhead services, exposed aquifers, proximity of water supply intakes, presence of minerals likely to be worked, ancient monuments, ground liable to subsidence, etc. In particular, high pressure gas pipelines should, wherever possible, be routed to avoid “built-up” areas. The relevant authorities should be consulted so that these factors may be properly studied when selecting the route.

Types of Rights

Types of rights related to pipeline routes and which may be acquired are as follows:

PURCHASE OF FREEHOLD: Generally, the only freeholds which need to be purchased outright will be for land on which buildings are to be constructed, e.g. pumphouses and/or compressor stations, or for land which will be necessary to fence the pipeline facilities such as line block valve locations. But, as these plant components may somtimes be set back from the road, therefore specific provisions should be acquired for permanent access to and from the plots located in some distance from the road.

ACQUISITION OF EASEMENTS: Easements can be acquired for a term of years or in perpetuity, and are preferable when wayleaves and licences are negotiated privately, because easements “flow with the land”, i.e. if either the land is sold or the company changes hands or assigns its interests, the easement will be automatically transferred so long as it continues to serve the ”dominant tenement“, which may be a refinery or installation at one or other end of the pipeline route.

Statutory easements can subsist alone. The granting of easements may either be in respect of a pipeline easement, or in respect of a right of way (access), or both, and will govern the rights and liabilities of each party. The document will specify the width of the easement, which is usually determined by the terrain and the method of construction. The company rights incorporated in the document will include the number of pipelines permitted to be laid, their depth, and provision for maintenance, operation, repair, or relaying, and the future use of the surface of the land.

ADDITIONAL RIGHTS (WAYLEAVES AND LICENCES): Provided that an easement is acquired, the principal additional rights would usually be for construction (including subsequent reconstruction), rights of way providing access to and from the easement strip, from a public highway, and provision for the installation and maintenance of cathodic protection outside the easement strip.

Financial Consideration and Compensation

The financial aspects related to the compensation of the landowners or land occupiers during engineering design of the pipeline ROW are as follows:

ACQUISITION: Generally, the proper price to be paid for a freehold is the value of the land defined by the open market as between willing vendor and purchaser, plus any reasonable consideration for injurious affection, severance, etc. The same considerations as to the value of the land apply to the easements, whereas the valuers usually interpret this to be roughly half the surface value of the total area of land included in the easement. Additionally, for privately negotiated treaties, it would be reasonable to make a payment to owners and occupiers for time spent during negotiations and consultancy of professional advisers.

DAMAGE AND LOSS: The company as being pipeline owner/promotor should arrange for the pipeline contractor (construction company) to reinstate all fences, hedges, land drains, and other things disturbed during construction. There may, however, be other factors for which reinstatement is not practicable, such as loss of residual manorial values or damage to crops, or instances where loss of profits can be proven when the owner or occupier would be entitled to compensation.

Statutory and Local Authorities

In most countries it is usually necessary to obtain the governmental approval or permission before pipeline construction can be commenced. In most countries pipeline construction may not be commenced until a construction authorization has been issued by the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources in accordance with the Pipelines Act (or other legislations, if applicable) or, in the case of pipelines less than 15 km in length, planning permission has been granted by the appropriate planning authority in accordance with the Town and Country Planning Acts (or other legislations, if applicable).

A long pipeline will usually have to cross roads, railways, canals and rivers, and underground services belonging to various authorities. In addition to the necessary easement, consent will have to be obtained from such bodies as the Country and Local Authorities, Water, Gas, and Electricity Boards, River and Drainage Authorities, Dock Undertakings, Railways and Waterways Boards, Ministry of Transport, other owners of underground services or pipelines, and anyone whose interests are likely to be affected by the construction and operation of the pipeline as being subject of the actual planning activities. It is always the responsibility of the pipeline promotor to ensure that all bodies or persons whose duties or interests are likely to be affected by the construction and operation of the pipeline are provided with sufficient information to enable them to carry out their duties adequately or to safeguard their interests.

Particular attention should be given to consultation with water authorities in order that mutually satisfactory arrangements can be made to avoid the risk of pollution of water used for public water supply purposes. These arrangements may cover the actual routing of the pipeline, any particular safeguards considered necessary in a vulnerable water area, and facilities for observation of the works during construction and testing of lengths in vulnerable water areas.

A vulnerable water area is defined in relation to ground water as an area in which there is no impermeable strata overlying an aquifer from which supplies are drawn. So far as surface water is concerned, all catchments from which water supplies are drawn are to some extent vulnerable to pollution, whereas the degree of risk should be assessed in each particular case. Other bodies to be consulted will be the local Planning Authority concerned with granting permission under the Town and Country Planning Acts, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, who may wish to introduce conditions relating to the actual construction of the pipeline, in so far as it affects the productivity and cultivation of the land and protection of livestock, etc., and the Country Fire Authority in relation to adequate fire-fighting access.


The following plans are required with regards to pipeline routing works or engineering design of the pipeline ROW:

PRELIMINARY ROUTING PLANS: 1/2-inch (1:126,720) or 1-inch (1:63,360) scale Ordnance Survey maps are recommended for preliminary routing plans according to complexity of terrain.

FIELD RECONNAISSANCE PLANS: 2 1/2-inch (1:25,000) or 6-inch (1:10,560) scale Ordnance Survey maps are recommended for field reconnaissance plans. The use of 6-inch maps may obviate duplication, since this is the smallest scale acceptable for applications under the Pipelines Act.

FINAL FIELD SURVEY PLANS: 25-inch (1:2,500) scale Ordnance Sheets with field numbers are recommended for the final field survey plans.

“AS-BUILT” STRIP PLANS: ”As-built“ strip plans should be prepared from the 25-inch (1:2,500) Ordnance Sheets as being used for final field survey plans. An approximate width of 8 inches (representing about 1,650 ft.) is required. Any vertical sections or profile along the pipeline route should be shown to a scale appropriate to the variations in ground elevation. Special crossings should be shown inset to a scale appropriate to the complexity of the work.

PLANS FOR ATTACHMENT TO LEGAL DOCUMENTS: Plans for attachment to legal documents should be based upon the 25-inch (1:2,500) scale Ordnance Survey Sheets. It may be necessary to prepare these plans on a larger scale when the areas of land are very small or complex, or, conversely, to a smaller scale where large areas of land are involved.

Marking of Pipeline Right of Way

Since pipelines are usually buried underground, line markers and warning signs like the ones shown below in Fig. 2.1-4 are used to indicate their approximate location along the pipeline route. The markers and warning signs are produced in high-visibility colors (yellow or orange) and are located at frequent intervals along the pipeline right-of-way. The markers can be found where a pipeline intersects a street, highway, railway, or waterway, and at other prominent points along the route. The markers display the material transported in the line, the name of the pipeline operator, and a telephone number where the operator can be reached in the event of an emergency. Pumping or compressor stations, tank farms or terminals, and cleared rights of way are also helping to signal that a pipeline is located nearby.

Pipeline markers and warning signs

Pipeline rights of way are well marked to help prevent damage from digging, the most common cause of pipeline accidents. Anyone planning to dig, especially in an area that appears to be a pipeline right-of-way or where the presence of a pipeline is suspected, should contact the pipeline operator or his state's one-call center at least 72 hours in advance of beginning the excavation. Pipeline markers are not always placed on top of the pipeline. Markers and warning signs only indicate the general location of a pipeline. They cannot be relied upon to indicate the exact position of the pipeline they mark. Also, the pipeline may not follow a straight course between markers. And, while markers are helpful in locating pipelines, they are limited in the information they provide. They provide no information, for example, on the depth or number of pipelines in the vicinity.

Right-of-way markers along a pipeline route or at a grade crossing only show the approximate location of a pipeline because the right-of-way they are marking is much wider than the pipeline. Thus, the markers are not always located precisely over a line and nor do the markers indicate the depth of the line. A pipeline may curve or make an angle underground as it runs between markers in order to avoid some natural or manmade feature such as a historical site or another underground facility such as a television or telecommunication cable.

Selection Process for Pipeline Right of Way

Natural Gas Pipelines

For natural gas pipelines, project planning begins with the basics of supply and demand. Generally, if there is a demand for natural gas, pipeline companies conduct a market analysis to estimate the size of the market. This gas supply requirement is typically expressed in terms of million cubic meter of gas per day. With this information engineers can begin to estimate the facilities required to transport the needed volumes of gas and the cost to construct the pipeline facilities. Engineers initially identify preliminary pipeline routes that will minimize impact to the public, landowners and the environment. The pipeline company typically will go through a process of reviewing available maps of the region to be traversed, and available published environmental data to determine a number of possible alternatives, depending on the characteristics of the region. This desktop work will then be augmented by use of aerial and ground reconnaissance in order to identify and select a preferred route. Once a preferred route is identified, the pipeline company will begin contacting landowners to discuss the project and seek permission to conduct civil and environmental surveys. These surveys are required for use in the detailed pipeline design and for preparing local, state and/or federal permit applications. Even though pipeline officials may begin discussions with landowners at this point, it is important to remember that the project is undergoing a feasibility analysis, and neither the project nor the pipeline route is finalized at this time. Selecting a pipeline route often involves discussing and evaluating options with landowners, environmental agencies and regulatory officials. If the market analysis ultimately justifies the cost of pipeline construction, only then will the pipeline company begin seeking permits and preparing a detailed project application.

Crude Oil Pipelines

For oil pipelines, potential routes are also initially suggested by demand patterns, including the predicted required flow of crude oil from a producing field to a refinery complex, or the expected flow of refined products from a refinery complex to population centers or markets. Oil pipeline route alternatives are then determined on the basis of studies of the cost of construction, projected growth in population centers, demand for transportation service over a period of time, and rates that are competitive and provide a reasonable return on investment. Once alternatives have been analyzed, an environmental study helps to select the most feasible option in terms of protecting the safety of the environment and the safety of those who live in the vicinity of the proposed pipeline right-of-way. These environmental studies generally follow procedures set out by state law, sometimes resulting in Environmental Impact Statements or Environmental Impact Assessments that are published in draft form for public comment. Finally, permissions must be obtained to use an easement corridor, the pipeline right-of-way. Owners of private and public property negotiate with the pipeline companies and sign leases for the use of their land.

Note: This article has been published on www.piping-world.com with permission from the author Dr. Orhan Degermenci.