Identification and management of landslide risk is a vital aspect of Equitrans’ daily work activities; however, the risk of a landslide is not limited to the midstream industry. Landslides can occur in any type of terrain, including both hills and valleys, and can be associated with any type of ongoing construction or pre-existing land disturbance. Natural factors such as rainfall and surface runoff water can amplify their frequency or severity; and left unmanaged, landslides have the potential to impact our environment. For Equitrans, this impact may include creating unnecessary strain on our underground pipelines, which are typically located in a variety of terrains as compared to our non-linear assets. To avoid unsafe situations and protect the integrity of our pipeline network, our engineering team uses a multi-faceted approach to aggressively identify and manage areas at risk for potential landslides.
To identify potential land movement near our assets, Equitrans’ engineers utilize aerial patrols, drones with photogrammetry change detection, and routine on-site inspections — or, if required, a combination of these methods may be used. In each case, we monitor our pipeline rights-of-way looking for any indication of unstable soil, such as discoloration, downed trees, or other data that could indicate a change in topography. Following a thorough evaluation of each asset location or suspected slide area by our engineering and compliance teams, we assign a priority ranking to indicate the potential for further movement and any risk to the environment or to the integrity of the pipeline.
As a final step, Equitrans pairs the geographic location data of known and suspected landslides with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) information. This analysis is done on a daily basis and allows Equitrans to identify rainfall events that could affect the stability of existing slide-prone areas and to rapidly respond and investigate when conditions change on the ground. In accordance with a defined framework that accounts for slide priority and rain severity, personnel may be deployed to conduct visual, on-site inspections. Beyond rainfall data, we also monitor temperature data to understand freeze thaw cycles and similarly deploy personnel to evaluate sites under changing conditions. Through continued use of these evaluation tools — aerial inspections, drone imaging, and manual site inspections — Equitrans remains committed to environmental and operational safety through its robust process to identify and manage potential landslides.
In addition, Equitrans launched a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) pilot program in 2020 to aid in the enhanced detection of potential landslides along our pipeline rights-of-way. Today, we conduct semi-annual LiDAR flights across thousands of miles of pipeline. The adoption of LiDAR technology and utilization of our enhanced construction standards are collectively designed to improve Equitrans’ ability to mitigate landslide risk for the safety of our employees and communities, and for the benefit of our customers, investors, and the environment.