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Safety & Public Awareness / Right of Way Info

Date Requested: Jun 26 2019 1:14 AM
Printable Version


  1. Introduction
  2. Safety and Reliability
  3. Pipeline Facilities Overview
  4. Northern's Right-of-Way Agreements
  5. Legislation
  6. Encroachments
  7. Notification and Construction Safety Requirements
  8. Plan Design and Review Requirements
  9. Encroachment Specifications
  10. Northern Emergency and State One Call Numbers

I. Introduction  


This handbook outlines the standards and procedures to be followed when planning land use development on or near Northern Natural Gas rights-of-way. The handbook is intended for use by city and county planners, engineers, developers, land surveyors and anyone involved in the initial stages of land development. If Northern is included in the initial planning stages, project delays can be avoided and safe development practices in the vicinity of pipelines can be attained.

The handbook is designed to make you aware of the most common standards and procedures Northern typically requires to protect its facilities in areas of changing land use. Each proposed development or activity, however, requires a case specific evaluation by a qualified Northern representative.

Please become familiar with the contents of this handbook. If you have further questions or need assistance, please contact your local Northern representative.

Northern Natural Gas - Main Office  

1111 So. 103rd St.
Omaha, NE 68103-0330

Region Offices 

North Region
Minneapolis Region
1120 Centre Pointe Drive
Suite 400
Mendota Heights, MN 55120

Central Region
8101 Birchwood Court
Suite F
Johnston, IA 50131

South Region
801 So. Fillmore
Suite 210
Amarillo, TX 79101

II. Safety and Reliability 


Northern is committed to ensuring the safe operation of its natural gas pipeline systems. According to the Federal Department of Transportation, the transmission of natural gas through interstate pipelines is the safest means of transportation in the United States. The industry enjoys an excellent safety and reliability record. Northern has a thorough damage prevention policy to prevent pipeline damage. Damage by outside force from a third party is the leading cause of pipeline failures.


Northern is committed to reliable delivery of gas transportation services. Communities, factories, hospitals, power plants, businesses, and residences depend on our products and services for energy to generate heat and electricity.

Northern must and will use every available resource to ensure the safety and reliability of its facilities. Northern does not encourage nor support any development or encroachment that interferes with the operation or maintenance of its pipelines. In those cases where development or encroachment cannot be avoided, Northern needs your help to ensure the safety and reliability of our facilities. As a responsible developer, contractor, or other party engaged in any ground disturbing activity near pipeline facilities, Northern urges you to read and understand the guidelines presented in this publication.

III. Pipeline Facilities Overview 

Northern owns and operates 14,800 miles of pipeline with 5.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of market area peak transportation capacity plus 2.0 Bcf/d of field transportation capacity. Additionally Northern operates 5 storage facilities with storage capacity of 73 Bcf. The transmission operation includes high-pressure steel pipeline ranging in diameter from 2 to 36-inches, compressor stations, town border stations, cathodic protection equipment, valve settings, odorizers and other related facilities. Through these facilities, Northern provides transportation and storage services to 81 utilities and numerous commercial and industrial customers in the upper Midwest.

In accordance with federal regulations, Northern identifies the location of its pipeline facilities by installing permanent pipeline markers near rail, water, fence and underground utility crossings. Pipeline markers may also be strategically placed in extensive areas of open ground to delineate the location of the pipeline.

The maintenance of pipeline markers and an open, clear right-of-way at all times is critical to public safety. Construction or development near transmission pipelines increases the probability of excavation damage. It is the responsibility of Northern, individual landowners and contractors to ensure that all temporary and permanent pipeline markers installed by Northern are protected and maintained at all times, especially during construction. Removing or defacing a pipeline marker is a federal criminal offense.

IV. Northern's Right-of-Way Agreements Description 

Most of Northern's existing pipeline easements and rights were acquired through right-of-way agreements granting Northern the right to construct, operate, maintain, repair, modify, alter, protect, change the size of, remove, replace and access a pipeline or pipelines within its easement. The easement and rights are conveyed with the land in successive purchases and generally allow the current landowner the right to use and enjoy the property, as long as that use does not interfere or conflict with Northern's rights.


When the original pipeline routes were selected, agricultural, forested or rural environments were deliberately chosen whenever possible. In some cases, the original right-of-way agreement did not specify a defined right-of-way width or location on the lands covered by the agreement, and therefore included large sections of land.

Where defined, Northern's rights-of-way vary in width from 25 to 120 feet, depending on the number and diameter of the pipeline(s), terrain and terms of the right-of-way agreement.

Amendments or Modifications

As the rural environment is altered and land developments are proposed, Northern, at the request of the landowner, may elect to amend or modify the right-of-way agreement to reflect the changing land use. Northern may work with developers to incorporate the right-of-way into the project design, including consent to use the right-of-way as a "greenway" or open space area, so long as that use does not interfere with Northern's ability to use the acquired easements and rights.

In the State of Minnesota, Statute 300.045 provides for defining the right-of-way to a specific description when requested by the landowner. Northern complies with each request and determines the easement width in accordance with the pipeline size and the applicable engineering standard for operation, maintenance and construction.

V. Legislation Federal  

Northern is regulated by the Department of Transportation, Office of Pipeline Safety. The pipeline safety regulations are administered through Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 192.

Part 192 prescribes minimum standards for the safe operation of pipelines. The more dense the population, the more stringent the standards f or pipeline design, maximum allowable operating pressure, integrity testing, frequency and type of patrols and leak surveys.


All of the states in which Northern operates have damage prevention laws for the protection of pipelines and other underground utilities. Most states require excavators to notify their local one-call system of their excavation plans. Northern participates in all one-call systems, which coordinate notice of excavation to participating industries.

City & County

Local governments often play a major role in regulating land use by means of comprehensive planning and zoning. Some counties currently offer developer incentives to encourage easement use for parks and open space purposes.

Some counties and cities require an additional building setback from the pipeline easement. Please check local codes before submitting lot layout plans.

VI. Encroachments 

It is Northern's philosophy to prevent encroachments, when possible, by working with agencies and developers to design projects outside the pipeline easement. Many of Northern's easement agreements prohibit encroachments, and you should be aware that Northern will enforce applicable provisions in its easement agreements where it believes the continued safe operation and maintenance of the pipeline could be threatened.

Where Northern determines that an activity can be undertaken without jeopardy to the pipeline system, Northern will require an encroachment agreement or issue an encroachment permit depending on the type and scope of activity proposed.

The encroachment agreement will contain all pertinent conditions to be followed by the encroaching party for the planned activity and may also provide for cost reimbursement to Northern if relocation of the pipeline and/or facilities is required. Typically, Northern will seek reimbursement for relocation projects that require significant design review, engineering investigation, field inspections, legal consultation, facility modification, or pipeline construction.

The encroachment permit will contain all pertinent conditions to be followed by the encroaching party for the activity planned and is generally reviewed and issued to the encroaching party on-site.

Northern requires a minimum of 30 business days lead-time to review preliminary residential plans for impacts to the easement and to insure that all proposed improvements are designed in accordance with Northern's Encroachment Specifications.

Encroachment Agre​ement Form

When is an Encroachment Agreement required?

An encroachment agreement is required when:

  • Activities/works cross under or over the natural gas pipeline.
  • Activities/works extend into the right-of-way.

Examples of such activities/works may include, but are not limited to:

  • Street and road crossings
  • Ornamental fencing that cross the pipeline, retaining walls, terracing or vision impairing landscaping that restricts access and/or visibility, changes to the natural flow of water that creates soil erosion within the right-of-way (these encroachments are typically not granted).
  • Planting of trees
  • Blasting or use of explosives in the vicinity of Northern facilities
  • Heavy equipment crossings
  • Large diameter utility crossings
  • Permanent facilities associated with adjacent commercial or residential developments.

Other activities subject to an encroachment agreement are determined on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, third party activities that necessitate Northern to modify its facilities (such as, but not limited to, pipeline casing extensions, pipeline relocations or replacements, and pipeline cathodic protection facility modifications) are addressed in the encroachment agreement. Reimbursement provisions may also be referenced in the encroachment agreement; however this is usually addressed by a separate reimbursement agreement.

Who initiates the "Encroachment Agreement"?

A Northern representative generally initiates the encroachment agreement. The agreement must be executed before work begins on the right-of-way. In the event work commences absent such an agreement, Northern may take steps to prevent further activity.

Reimbursement Agreement

When is a "Reimbursement Agreement" required?

A reimbursement agreement may be required for activities proposed on the right-of-way which require extensive preliminary engineering and/or field inspection services by Northern personnel.

In addition, Northern will seek a reimbursement agreement for any third-party activities that require modification to Northern's facilities. Such modifications include, but are not limited to, pipeline casing extensions, pipeline relocations or replacements and pipeline cathodic protection facility modifications.

Who initiates the "Reimbursement Agreement"?

The agreement is initiated by a representative of Northern and must be executed before any work, preliminary engineering, or field inspection services are performed by Northern.

Encroachment Agreement Form

When is an "Encroachment Permit" required?

An encroachment agreement is required when:

  • Activities/works cross under or over the natural gas pipeline.
  • Activities/works extend into the right-of-way.

Examples of such activities/works may include, but are not limited to:

  • Residential water lines
  • Residential television cable
  • Small diameter drainage or sewer lines
  • Residential electrical lines
  • Fences (livestock fences or typical residential fences that do not cross the pipeline)
  • Residential sprinkler systems
  • Residential driveway

Who initiates the "Encroachment Permit"?

The agreement is initiated by a local representative of Northern and must be executed before work begins on the right-of-way.

VII. Notification and Construction Safety Requirements 


In order to prevent unnecessary delays, Northern encourages close communication with its representatives throughout your entire project. A Northern representative will be pleased to attend pre-construction meetings and provide a safety/informational presentation to any interested parties, including contractors, local government maintenance crews, and developers. Please refer to the region contacts for your specific contact number.

All of the states in which Northern operates have "one-call" laws, which require excavators to provide 48 to 72 hours notice, depending on local requirements, before any excavating commences. Your local one-call system will notify all participating utilities in the area of your planned excavation activities.

A Northern representative will be on-site following 48 to 72 hours prior notice for all surface and subsurface activities within the pipeline right-of-way. Any crossings made without a Northern inspector on site will have to be re-excavated at the excavator's expense to provide Northern an opportunity to inspect all affected pipeline facilities.

Protect yourself, utility companies, and the public. Call before you dig.

Federal regulations (OSHA 29CFR Ch. XVII-1926.651) require excavators to notify underground utilities prior to the start of actual excavation. Your state regulations may be more specific, but in any case, failure to notify underground utility operators of excavation activities could lead to a citation or fine.

Northern operates its facilities at high pressures. To ensure the safety and reliability of its facilities, Northern requires one of its representatives to be on site while you work around its pipelines. Remember, in addition to making the one-call, please contact your local Northern office before work commences on, or in close proximity to, a Northern right-of-way. A Northern representative will be on site to inspect the work and monitor the site until construction is completed.

Safety Requirements

Excavations must be barricaded to protect pedestrians and vehicles. Proper access into the trench must be provided. Excavations must be properly sloped or shored, as required to comply with state and Federal OSHA requirements.

Stockpiling brush, trash or other debris on the easement is prohibited, as it may conceal pipeline markers and hinder pipeline inspections or routine maintenance. Contact your local Northern district office concerning burning restrictions.

VIII. Plan Design and Review Requirements 

Ideal Subdivision Layout

  • The entire easement width is reserved as an open space trail or green belt.
  • Easement identity is clear and easily marked.
  • Crews can undertake emergency repairs quickly.
  • Fewer landowners are affected by the easement, which reduces the chance of a "dig in."
  • Routine maintenance and inspections are not hindered.

When the proposed development plans call for the dedication of the street/road right-of-way to the city, county or state, it is important to note that Northern's easement is superior to this action and its rights are not diminished. The agency involved may require you to obtain an amended easement.

Subdivision Plans

  • Northern requires a minimum of 60 business days lead-time to review preliminary plans for impacts to the easement and to insure that all proposed improvements are designed in accordance with Northern's Encroachment Specifications.
  • An open space trail, free of trees and other deep-rooted plants, is the ideal easement use. This reduces the public exposure by minimizing the opportunity for "dig-ins." When this is not possible, lot division on either boundary of the easement is preferable to splitting the easement between lots. A lot division configured on top of the pipeline causes lot loss to the public because no fences can be built directly over the pipeline. Construction, maintenance and routine inspections can be disruptive to the landowner when the easement is split between lots.
  • A formal encroachment agreement is usually executed between Northern and the developer/landowner to provide specific land use rights
  • Northern representatives will work with your surveyor(s) and will flag or stake the location of its pipeline facilities.

Street & Road Crossing Plans

  • Northern requires a minimum of 60 business days to review proposed road-crossing plans. Additional review time will be necessary for proposed divided highways, interstate highways and other road construction projects that require pipeline modifications.
  • Provide a scope of work, description, and plan and profile drawings with your plans. Profiles are required to show depth of cover over each Northern pipeline (existing and finished grade) and the clearance between Northern's pipeline and any associated utilities.
  • Please include a location map showing the project site area​​​, including sufficient geographical references such as legal property lines, roads, and appropriate deed information to the properties impacted.
  • When new rights-of-way are acquired or dedicated, the costs for pipeline modifications will generally be borne by the developer, state, county or city highway department.
  • Northern must be given the opportunity to make a pipeline inspection prior to the start of road construction.

​IX. Encroachment Specifications 

The following Northern specifications are minimum requirements for most proposed encroachments to maintain safety and reliability of the pipelines and to avoid conflicts with Federal Department of Transportation regulations and existing right-of-way agreements. Additional requirements may be imposed, depending upon the scope of the proposed encroachment. For a review of your individual situation, please contact your local Northern office. "One-Call" systems require 48 to 72 hours notice prior to excavation activities. Check your local requirements, it's fast, easy and provided at no charge. Notification is the Law!

General Requirements for Surface Alterations

  • No aboveground structures or appurtenances are to be located within the Northern right-of-way.
  • An authorized Northern representative must be on site prior to and during any surface disturbing work performed within the right-of-way. Northern's representative will assist you in determining the location of the pipeline, the right-of-way width, and existing cover over the pipeline.
  • No cut or fill on the right-of-way is permitted without Northern's approval. Northern will require submittal of plan and profile drawings for prior review and approval. All drawings must show, in detail, any nearby Northern facilities and other features that will allow Northern to determine the effects of the proposed construction or maintenance activity on its facilities.
  • Northern may request evidence of general liability and other appropriate and usual insurance prior to any activity and/or construction on or near Northern rights-of-way. In the event of excavation under Northern pipelines, the applicable Northern pipeline must be named as additional insured. Any rights of subrogation or recovery will be waived in favor of Northern. The insurance limits, terms and conditions that may be required will be dependent on the specific facilities potentially impacted and what would be usually and prudently obtained in similar industry situations.
  • All foreign lines crossing Northern's right-of-way shall be installed in accordance with all applicable codes and requirements governing such installations.
  • All foreign lines shall cross Northern's right-of-way at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible. No horizontal or vertical beds will be permitted in Northern's right-of-way. Parallel occupancy of Northern's right-of-way shall not be permitted.
  • Northern pipelines are electrically protected against corrosion. At Northern's request, metallic foreign lines that enter or cross Northern's right-of-way must have test leads installed. In addition, Northern personnel must be provided an opportunity to install test leads on Northern's existing pipelines. All necessary measures (coatings, electrical bonds, etc.) shall be taken to ensure that the proposed pipe or utility is adequately protected from potential interference.
  • All foreign lines crossing Northern pipeline or related facilities shall be installed with a minimum of 12 inches of clearance between the existing Northern pipeline facilities and the proposed foreign line. The foreign line shall be installed at a uniform depth across the full width of the Northern right-of-way. Northern may require that foreign lines be installed under its existing pipeline(s) and related facilities.
  • Northern may require that foreign lines be identified with permanent aboveground markers where the lines enter and exit Northern's right-of-way. It is the foreign line owner's responsibility to obtain any rights to install the markers, and to maintain the markers. A direct-burial warning tape should be placed 12 to 18 inches above the foreign line and extend across the entire width of Northern's right-of-way.
  • In some cases, there is significant delay between the review of developer's plans and actual construction. If delays occur, all construction and maintenance activities are subject to Northern's requirements in effect at the time the work actually takes place.

Agricultural Fences

  • Fence posts shall not be installed within 2 feet of any Northern pipeline. For fences installed across the right-of-way, Northern will require that the first fence post installed on either side of the pipe shall be set in a hand dug hole.
  • Northern shall have the free right of ingress and egress. Northern may require that new fences have a 12-foot wide gate without locking devices installed within the right-of-way at a location approved by Northern.

Residential Fences

  • Residential fences shall not cross any Northern pipeline.
  • Parallel fence installations will be approved in accordance with Engineering Standard 0065 and applicable easement documentation, contact your local Northern representative for specific limitations on your property.

Landscape Guidelines

  • No trees or large, deep-rooted shrubs are permitted on the right-of-way.
  • With prior approval from Northern, some types of small shrubs may be permitted on the right-of-way, provided the plantings do not interfere with the operation, maintenance and inspection of the pipeline and related facilities. Under no circumstances will mechanical equipment be allowed for planting of shrubs on the right-of-way.
  • Northern reserves the right to cut and/or remove plantings on the Northern right-of-way as required in the operation, inspection and maintenance of its pipeline facilities; further, Northern assumes no responsibility for any cost involved in the replacement of removed landscape plantings.
  • All sprinkler or irrigation systems will require review by a Northern representative. Sprinkler heads will not be permitted within 5 feet of any pipeline. All crossings of the pipeline with feeder lines must be hand dug.
  • Northern may require that a recorded encroachment agreement be executed by all parties prior to any landscaping.

Streets, Roads and Driveways

  • Northern must complete a preliminary engineering review for all roads, streets, driveways, etc. proposed on the right-of-way. Any pipe casing, concrete slabs or other protection required by Northern shall be installed at no expense to Northern. Northern may require a pipeline inspection prior to construction.
  • Access to the earth above the pipeline must be maintained for leak detection and cathodic protection surveys.
  • The recommended minimum cover over Northern's existing pipelines is 36 inches at all driveways, highways, roads, streets, etc. The recommended minimum cover over Northern's existing pipelines in adjacent burrow ditches is 36 inches.
  • Driveways, highways, roads, streets, etc. crossing Northern pipeline facilities shall cross at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible. All crossings must be over straight pipe and at locations free of any other crossovers. Parallel occupancy of the right-of-way shall not be permitted.
  • Northern may require a recorded Encroachment Agreement. Northern will retain the right to cut all present and proposed driveways, highways, roads, streets, etc. and will have no responsibility for restoration, loss of use or access or any other costs.

Temporary Equipment Crossings

To protect Northern's pipeline from external loading, Northern must perform an engineering evaluation to determine the effects of any proposed equipment use. Mats, timber bridges or other protective materials deemed necessary by Northern shall be placed over Northern facilities for the duration of any loading. Protective materials shall be purchased, placed and removed at no cost to Northern. The right-of-way must be restored to its original condition.

Northern may require markings to identify specific areas where equipment use is authorized. Vibratory equipment is not permitted on the right-of-way.

Drainage, Impoundment of Water and Erosion Control

  • Northern may conduct preliminary engineering studies for any proposed drainage channels or ditches within the right-of-way. Drainage channels or ditches must be adequately protected from erosion and provide a minimum of 36 inches of cover over the pipeline(s). Altering (clearing, re-grading or changing alignment of) an existing drainage channel or ditch requires approval from Northern.
  • Impoundment of water on the right-of-way is not permitted. Soil erosion control measures shall not be installed within the right-of-way without prior Northern approval.


  • Plans for excavation on the right-of-way require prior approval by Northern. A Northern representative must be present for any excavation within 25 feet of any Northern pipeline. No machine excavation shall be performed within 24 inches of Northern's pipeline(s). Northern's on site representative may require hand digging at a distance greater than 24 inches.
  • When a backhoe is used, the bucket teeth should be curled under each time the bucket is brought back into the ditch to reduce the chance of the teeth contacting the pipeline.
  • Prior to any plowing or ripping of soil on the right-of-way, particularly in association with development grading or agricultural activities, your plans should be reviewed with your local Northern representative to ensure that proper cover exists.
  • Northern may require an engineering evaluation of all excavation activities which necessitate unsupported pipeline spans 10 feet in length or greater.


  • Northern may require that a detailed blasting plan be submitted for review and authorization prior to any proposed blasting. Depending on the type of facilities the minimum perpendicular distance from the point of detonation to the center of the pipeline will be between 150 and 300 feet from Northern pipeline facilities. If deemed necessary by Northern, the blasting contractor may be required to perform seismic monitoring.

Buried Communication (Telephone, TV, Data Transmission and Fiber Optic) and Buried Power Line Crossings

  • All buried communication lines including residential telephone and cable TV lines crossing Northern facilities shall be installed in rigid casing (minimum of Schedule 40) for a minimum of 7.5 feet on either side of the pipeline.
  • All buried electric cables, including single residential service drops, crossing Northern facilities shall be installed in non-metallic rigid casing (minimum of Schedule 40) for a minimum of 10 feet on either side of the pipeline.
  • All buried electric cable of 600 volts or more shall be installed a minimum of 3 feet below the pipeline if practical, be encased in concrete, color coded red, across the entire right-of-way width and have external, spiral wound, neutrals grounded on each side of the right-of-way.
  • Northern may require additional protection, including concrete encasement or concrete caps.

Sanitary Sewer and Water Crossings

All sewer and water lines shall be either (1) ductile iron or steel pipe (adequately protected from Northern cathodic protection system), or (2) plastic pipe installed in rigid casing (minimum of Schedule 40) for a minimum of 10 feet on either side of the pipeline.

Combustible Material Lines

  • All plastic combustible material lines shall be installed in rigid casing (minimum of Schedule 40) for a minimum of 10 feet on either side of the pipeline.
  • Northern may require that steel combustible material lines (adequately protected from Northern cathodic protection system) be installed under the existing Northern pipeline facilities. In addition, Northern may require additional protection for steel combustible material lines, including concrete encasement or concrete caps.

Bored Crossings

  • Northern's existing pipeline facilities shall be test pitted to verify the location of the pipe prior to any proposed boring operations. Northern may require submittal of both plan and profile drawings for appropriate review prior to any proposed boring operations.
  • Northern may require rigid casing (minimum of Schedule 40) for all bored crossings.
  • Prior to any boring, inspection holes will be excavated to verify the depth of the bore as it approaches each pipeline. The contractor shall provide and maintain instrumentation to accurately locate the boring head.

Overhead Line Crossings

  • Overhead line crossings shall be installed with a minimum of 30 feet of vertical clearance above the Northern right-of-way to provide adequate equipment clearance. No poles or appurtenances shall be located on the Northern right-of-way.
  • Overhead line crossings shall not be installed within 30 feet (measured horizontally) of any gas vent (e.g. relief valve, blow-down vent).
  • Overhead lines shall cross at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible. Parallel occupancy of the Northern right-of-way will not be permitted

Disposal Systems

No septic tanks, liquid disposal systems or hazardous waste disposal systems will be allowed on the right-of-way or within 30 feet of Northern facilities. This prohibition includes, but is not limited to, facilities that have the potential of discharging effluent from sewage disposal systems, the discharge of any hydrocarbon substance, the discharge or disposal of any regulated waste or any other discharge that may prove damaging or corrosive to Northern facilities.

X. Northern owns facilities in twelve states noted below. 

Click on the state to be directed to that specific One Call web site or call the toll free number provided if you plan to dig.

Illinois 800-892-0123
Iowa 800-292-8989
Kansas 800-344-7233​
Michigan 800-482-7171
Minnesota 800-252-1166
Nebraska 800-331-5666
New Mexico 800-321-2537​
North Dakota 800-781-7471
Oklahoma 800-522-6543
South Dakota 800-781-7474
Texas 800-344-8377
Wisconsin 800-242-8511

To report a natural gas emergency call Northern's Operations Communication Center 888-367-6671 or 911