Corpus Christi and Port Aransas are hosts to a variety of wildlife including dolphins, sea turtles, and more than 400 species of birds. When pipelines are being proposed in an area or are under construction, a common question is what will happen to the existing nature and wildlife in the area. Here’s a rundown of how, and why, the Bluewater pipeline won’t affect surrounding wildlife.
Right of Ways (ROWs)
This is a common term used in utilities, especially as it pertains to water, energy, and telecommunications. So, if it seems like we refer to this term a lot, there’s a good and important reason. To refresh your memory, a right-of-way (ROW) is a permitted corridor where – in energy – existing pipelines, transmission, distribution, and distribution lines already run. We see them every day. Whether it’s the highway we’re driving on or the utility lines that deliver our electricity. You might not even notice them because they’re not always in plain sight but, it’s guaranteed that you will still make use of it every day when you turn on your light, fill up your water and sit down at your computer. ROWs are an essential part of our lives and play a huge role in delivering the energy we rely on every day.
So how do ROWs tie into wildlife? Since pipelines like Bluewater are already built along an existing right-of-way corridor, they don’t run the risk of affecting the region’s local wildlife that has lived alongside the infrastructure for decades. An added safety measure is the numerous scientists, including marine biologists and species experts, who use their professional expertise to evaluate and minimize the risks to the surrounding environment.
Every pipeline project starts with a wildlife assessment to identify the types of wildlife along a proposed route, and the risks involved for each species. Wherever pipelines could impact sensitive species, such as sea turtles or migratory birds (for example, whooping cranes that call Port Aransas home), specific mitigation and monitoring plans are developed to minimize direct and indirect effects on their populations. By planning construction for a particular season, and sticking to a tight schedule, pipeline companies can minimize the impact on wildlife. They are also careful to adapt disruptive features bordering the pipeline right of way that might disturb animal movements.
Additionally, a number of environmental considerations are taken into account that includes but is not limited to:
- Seeking existing pipeline corridors that minimize the impact on the environment, local communities, wildlife, and cultural resources and using advanced construction techniques like horizontal directional drilling to reduce or avoid impacting natural habitats and waterways.
- From the early stages in the planning process, working with key agencies to ensure a project complies with all applicable regulations and laws, including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and others. This includes coordinating and engaging with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state and local-level regulators.
- Partnering with environmental conservation and biodiversity groups in the region and supporting education and emergency response efforts in local communities along a pipeline’s planned route.
The Role of Technology
Just like any form of construction whether it’s renovating a home, making improvements in your local community, or building a new highway, exploring and drilling for oil may disturb land and marine ecosystems. Thankfully technological advances in exploration, production, and transportation of oil and enforcement of safety and environmental laws and regulations help to avoid and reduce these effects.
A number of recent technologies have made significant strides to increase the efficiency of exploration and drilling activities while also reducing the impact on the environment. Satellites, global positioning systems, remote sensing devices, and 3-D and 4-D seismic technologies make it possible to discover oil reserves while drilling fewer exploratory wells. Mobile and smaller drilling rigs with smaller boring holes reduce the size of the area that drilling activities affect. The use of horizontal and directional drilling also plays a big role in making it possible for a single well to produce oil from a much larger area, which reduces the number of wells necessary to develop an oil resource.
It’s important to note that anti-energy advocates may not be a fan of any of these methods. However, the reality stands that pipelines are a necessity and the most environmentally friendly option of delivering the resources we need. With Bluewater specifically, the goal is to use minimally invasive and technologically advanced methods to effectively deliver the energy we rely on in our lives while still being able to enjoy the environment around us. Like anything in nature, balance is key.
Restoring an Area after a Pipeline
After construction, the goal of a pipeline company is to return the pipeline right-of-way to as close to pre-construction conditions as possible and minimize the long-term impact on the surrounding land. During pipeline planning and operations, systems and protocols are put in place so that water crossings are monitored by environmental experts on the ground, as well by aerial patrols, to ensure the restoration process has been successful for plants and wildlife habitats. Most environmental restoration occurs within the first year following completion of construction and is subsequently monitored over the following years.