March 2022, Vol. 249, No. 3


Using Surface Loading Assessments for Third-Party Crossings

Special to P&GJ 

A major North American transmission pipeline operator historically had its engineering team work with its Lands Department when third-party service providers submitted a request for approval if the request included completing any activities that involved vehicles crossing a pipeline.   

These activities included new construction, new roadways, digging, etc. The operator used the support of a third-party service provider to conduct the necessary surface loading assessments. The service provider would use the CEPA Calculator, which is the industry standard surface loading evaluation tool, to determine if the reported existing depth of cover, with a minimum of 4.5 feet (1.4 meters), was sufficient.   

The provider then would issue a response of either a pass or fail. If it were a fail, the operator would deny approval for the crossing request and it would result in an undesirable circumstance such as needing to relocate, installing an air bridge, or remediating the site.  

The use of the minimum depth of cover, along with other conservative approaches, caused redundant conservatism that resulted in many crossing requests being denied.   

The operator identified a need to improve their internal review process since they continued to endure a lengthy approval cycle and many instances where vehicle crossings were determined to exceed allowable stress on the pipeline. These were mostly caused by many safety factor redundancies in their existing process, which hindered them in being able to obtain a “pass” on a request for vehicles to cross their pipeline.   

The operator’s key objective was to develop and implement a more strategic application approval process as opposed to just punching numbers into a calculator and obtaining a pass or fail response.   

The end goal was to elevate critical thinking with being more proactive to support a robust process, as well as reduce the approval process time and achieve a “pass” on first submission. At the end of March 2020, the operator engaged in discussions with Dynamic Risk with respect to the current projects they were working on to include the development of a new, innovative process to complete their third-party crossing applications.   

The discussions centered around taking their existing process to the next level by adding in a new layer of analysis and strategic thought to advance the approval process and reduce turn-around time.   

“As we worked through developing this new process, it went very smoothly given our alignment on researching industry best practices, performing technical analyses to remove unnecessary conservatism, using critical thinking to find alternative options, and streamlining our workflows,” the operator’s engineering supervisor said. “Dynamic Risk has direct access to our pipeline integrity data, which allows them to better understand the pipeline condition and risks.”   

Phase 1  

The operator’s engineering team kicked off development by taking a different, proactive approach in which the teams used the CEPA Calculator to do the loading calculations and determine what depth of cover they would need to “pass” the calculation.   

Furthermore, the depth of cover requirement was removed, and it was advised that the minimum depth of cover is required if the existing depth of cover was less than what is calculated as a minimum.   

If the existing depth of cover was higher than the minimum, the recommendation was to maintain it. The key objective was to work together as partners with the analysis and documentation used to facilitate informed decision-making for an efficient and effective approval process.   

In addition, if the operator’s engineering team were missing information, previously, they would have had to inform their land administrator who would have had to contact the crosser to obtain the required data. Once the crosser replied with the required data, the land administrator would report back to the engineering team.   

The internal team in charge of obtaining the required information from the crosser often did not have a technical background nor the required expertise to ensure the data requested were accurate.

This also posed key challenges to reduce time spent in back-and-forth communication and the risk of obtaining inaccurate information. With the new approach in place, if there were any data gaps that arose, Dynamic Risk would reach out directly to the crosser to obtain information on behalf of the operator. This not only alleviated additional work and time spent, but it also streamlined communication between all parties involved.   

“This new approach is a big change from what many service providers are currently doing in support of third-party crossing applications,” said Doug Matchett, technical lead at Dynamic Risk. “We don’t pass or fail; we make recommendations for what will work and take extra measures with our analysis to support the operator achieving a pass while still making pipeline safety the top priority.”  

Phase 2   

Phase two involved advancing with a newly defined approach and testing it out with leveraging an initial set of results to analyze how the new process would affect calculations and where efficiencies were gained.   

The objective was to reduce the conservatism built into the existing process through completing third-party crossings evaluations using the CEPA Calculator and defining detailed learnings regarding the applicability of some of the defaults used and some of the values suggested by CEPA.   

A report was specifically developed for the operator regarding how to use the CEPA Calculator more effectively and what changes they could make regarding input data and how to analyze results.   

In parallel to analyzing the results and the calculator, efforts also were made to use more accurate data to ensure the results are more accurate and reduce the need to be overly conservative with safety measures. These refinements included several recommended changes to the operator’s standard operating procedures (SOPs). 


  • Facilitating strategic thought processes and critical thinking  
  • Streamlining the third-party crossing approval process  
  • Reducing project downtime with a shortened approval cycle  
  • Mitigating data inaccuracies for trusted decision making  
  • Reducing communication redundancies and bridging any gaps   
  • Flexibility to scale up or down quickly based on project requirements 

Phase 3  

The third phase, which the operator is currently in, puts the team in a position to take the results and recommendations and put them into action. This involves dedicated training workshops for all key personnel who receive the third-party crossings applications and those who use the results of the assessments.   


Between April 2020 and Jan. 30, 2021, about 500 analyses of crossings were completed on both pipelines, including surface loading assessments. Another 15 assessments were pending for operator’s engineering team to complete.  

Both partners are pleased with the outcome to date and the new approach taken has been clarified a “win-win” by exceeding expectations and reducing cost per crossings request, which includes a robust quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) process and weekly reporting.   

Historically, a crossing’s approval application could take up to 30 days from start to finish. Leveraging additional detailed analyses facilitates trust in the data and aids in quicker decision-making and streamlining safety measures.  

Having the ability to scale up or down quickly has reduced approval time for the operator to between 5 and 10 business days, depending on the urgency.   

Another benefit realized includes removing the middleman in communications with the crossers. The ability to work directly with the crosser to obtain required information on behalf of the operator saves significant time and internal resources tied up in communications, as well as supports more accurate and detailed feedback.   

The operator’s vision is to take the current success achieved through the development of a new, innovative process for third-party crossings and further augment it through automating the analysis process with use of technology solutions. 

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