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Firefox was commissioned by Catapult Environmental Inc. to complete pre and post construction, and course of construction environmental monitoring aerial inspections of a pipeline construction project south of Fox Creek, Alberta.

Catapult Environmental Inc. develop and operate facilities to manage oilfield fluids, and provide solutions for oilfield environmental challenges. They are an excellent client to work with, with a strong focus on the environment throughout the facility and pipeline construction process, and throughout their operations.

Aerial video of the entire pipeline right-of-way was captured at various elevations. Several geographic features were photographed at multiple compass points and birds-eye view. These features included water courses such as small permanent creeks, ephemeral draws, marshes and fens. All flights were conducted under the VLOS (visual line of site) rules.

The purpose of the pre-construction aerial inspections is to provide a baseline on water body, vegetation and ground conditions prior to construction. Imagery captured post-construction is compared to the baseline imagery to confirm that water bodies have not been adversely affected, to determine if any re-planting is required, and to determine if rollback was completed as per environmental regulations.

The pipeline right of way is approximately 10 kilometers long. Products installed include 2 kilometers of steel line pipe and 10 kilometers of flex pipe. 

Pre-Construction Aerial Pipeline Environmental Inspection

A standard site survey was completed in February prior to conducting UAV pipeline environmental flight missions. We travelled to site and were greeted by -25 Celsius daytime temperatures and 60 cm of snow on the ground; typical Alberta winter. We had to wait a day before starting flights; UAV equipment specifications are good to -20 Celsius for our new equipment.

We initially estimated 27 individual flight points to complete the mission based on the legal survey plan, to maintain visual line of site (VLOS) of the UAV. We were able to cut this down to 13 flight points once we got boots on the ground and determined the longest possible flight paths. Most of the obstacles consisted of trees and topography, with a utility power line and communication tower at the west end of the project and a flare stack at the east end.

Part of flight mission planning was to a desktop review of the Qualified Aquatic Environmental Specialist Assessment Report (QAES) to get a better understanding of what to look for at each of the watercourse crossings. QAES reports are used to identify potential watercourses, document aquatic habitat conditions and potential fish habitat and to provide recommendations to maintain those habitats. Completing and following the report guidelines is a requirement of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) as described in the Code of Practice for Pipelines and Telecommunication Lines Crossing a Waterbody.

After the QAES desktop review, we determined that there were three ephemeral draws and two small permanent creeks to be inspected in greater detail. After our site survey, we determined that there was a marsh crossing to add to the aerial inspection list. While the marsh was not fish-bearing, it does have water flow during spring freshet, and would require directional drilling to cross the waterbody.

Aerial Pipeline Waterbody Crossing Inspections

Each watercourse has its own unique characteristics. UAV aerial photos of the pipeline crossings were captured covering the entire zone of influence; from one end of the crossing to the other and up to 200 meters up and downstream. These aerial photographs give the viewer a good idea of what the watercourse looked like before construction activities commenced. A record of area contours, vegetation characteristics and watercourse channel condition are captured and used at a later date as a comparison to determine if any adverse changes occurred during pipeline construction.

Pipeline Waterbody Crossing Photos
Pre-Construction Pipeline Environmental Inspection

UAV flight missions capturing aerial photographs and video pipeline right-of-way was challenging considering the depth of snow and obstacles on the right of way. We used ATV’s to traverse the off-road sections, finding snow had drifted to over 4 feet in areas. Video was captured of the entire pipeline right of way at an elevation of 15 meters. Aerial photographs were captured at each flight point and at the end of the flight path.

We were able to film sections up to 900 meters in length along the straight stretches of pipeline right of way during the environmental inspection. Our new UAV is black in colour, which has good contrast against the sky; inversely it is difficult to see at times at lower elevations with trees for a backdrop. The benefits of a pilot-assistant or visual observer are invaluable when tracking the UAV.

Pipeline Right-of-Way Photos

Video footage was reviewed, edited and produced into a 20-minute film of the entire right-of-way. This version provides an archive record of conditions prior to pipeline construction. We also produced a 3-minute version of the pipeline aerial environmental inspection video which was presented to the board of directors.

Post-Construction Aerial Pipeline Environmental Inspection

Post-Construction Pipeline Environmental Inspection

This project is in progress.  Check back in June of 2019 for the blog update.

Thank you to Catapult Environmental Inc. for giving Firefox the opportunity to work on this project, and a special thanks to Sean Worden and Luke Foster

We would also like to thank D.L.C. Services Ltd. and Interior Corrosion Services for assisting with the project


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