Saving Aussie critters during pipeline construction

Jan 9, 2015

Digging a pipeline is not just a “weld, trench and bury” process; there are lots of different attentions to take when planning and constructing. Part of this process is considering the wildlife near the area of construction. This is a best practice for DBP Development Group (DDG), partner with TransAlta for the Fortescue River Gas Pipeline joint venture project in Pilbara, Western Australia.

Every day, three hours after sunrise, a team of six Fauna handlers head out to the Fortescue River Gas Pipeline trenches looking for critters that have made their way in during the night. The handler team is with Monadelphous KT Pty Ltd (Monadelphous), the construction partner on the project. As most wildlife in Australia are nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk), they find their way into the pipeline trench during those times, so the team needs to get them out of the trench before the work day starts.

“We’re not too sure of what attracts the critters to the trench, but it’s probably to explore something new and unusual,” says Jonathan Davies, senior environmental advisor at DDG. “We find that the number of animals caught after the first night of open trench is relatively small, but increases dramatically on the second day. This might relate to how significant the noise and general disturbance is during trenching compared with a quieter second day, but we don’t know for certain.”

A second full inspection commences after 3 p.m. each day.  In addition, a thorough inspection is always done immediately before lowering the welded pipe into the trench. These inspections are about three kilometers in length, but some days the team walks up to five or six kilometers to check for critters.

All kinds of living things are found in the trenches throughout the environmental teams’ work day, including rodents, marsupials, mammals, amphibians, birds and a large number of reptiles. From construction start in August to the end of December 2014, the team encountered 112 species; 93 of which were reptiles.

“When an animal is found, it undergoes a quick visual health check to ascertain its condition and is then released into the native vegetation in the vicinity of where it was found,” says Davies.

Everyone on the DDG construction team keeps an eye out for wildlife that may have wandered into the work areas throughout the work day, but no one may handle any animal, especially snakes, unless they are trained, certified and licensed to do so. The fauna handlers on the team must go through a training process that includes a first aid component primarily for interacting with venomous snakes, of which there are an abundance of in Australia. Fauna handlers are fully equipped with safety equipment including thick cotton, full-length clothing; steel-capped boots and gloves thick enough to withstand bites from small animals. Extended hooks and bags are used to capture and relocate critters from a distance. First aid kits are also carried in every vehicle, and the handlers each have compression bandages for potential snake bite first aid.

“Small animals like geckos and skinks are fine to catch by hand, but the bigger monitors [a type of lizard] and of course the snakes are kept away from the person interacting with them,” says Davies. “One of the monitor species out here, the Varanus giganteus, grows up to 2.5 m in length (it’s the second-largest lizard in the world), so when they’re in the trench it’s best for us to try and usher them out rather than try to pick them up in any way.”

Together with DDG, TransAlta is making sure it has a minimal environmental impact on wildlife and their habitat while keeping safety a priority. Both of these are important for our joint venture during the construction of the Fortescue River Gas Pipeline to help ensure creatures are protected and all workers return home safe — everyday.

January 9, 2015

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