2017 Harvest

2017 Harvest

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Depth of Cover Monitoring Requirements Absurd? So says the Ontario Divisional Court

Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. has won an appeal from the dismissal of its small claims court action against a contractor over damage caused to a gas main in Holland Landing, Ontario.  Enbridge claimed that the contractor damaged the pipe when using a mechanical digging device to uncover a leaking septic tank.  Enbridge had asserted at trial that the entire incident could have been avoided if the contractor had called for a locate; the contractor was negligent.  On appeal, the Divisional Court agreed and awarded damages to Enbridge.

At trial and in the appeal, the issue of depth of cover over the pipe came into play.  The trial judge had found that the pipe was not buried at the minimum required depth (2 feet) and that Enbridge should have ensured proper depth.  However, the Divisional Court noted that there is no requirement in the applicable legislation or regulations (or the TSSA Guideline or the CSA Standard) that a gas main must remain installed at the minimum depth.

The Court reasoned:

There is no requirement that Enbridge must continually measure the depths of all of its buried pipelines. Such a finding would lead to the absurd result that utility companies would be required to constantly recheck their lines in the ground. It is a well-established principle of statutory interpretation that the Legislature does not intend to produce absurd consequences. If the Legislature intended this result, the Act, the Regulation, the TSSA Guideline or CSA Standard would have stated that utility companies must ensure that the pipes “remain” buried at a minimum depth.

Unlike the case of Sun-Canadian Pipeline v. Lockwood, where the Court found that the company had actual knowledge that the pipeline had insufficient cover on the property, there is no evidence that Enbridge had knowledge that its Gas Main was at less than the required depth at the property until after the incident occurred.

Although these comments must be read in light of the facts of this particular case, it will no doubt be of concern to pipeline landowners to find an appellate court in Canada suggesting that pipeline companies have no obligation to monitor the depth of cover over their pipelines.  In fact, the Divisional Court suggested that such a requirement would be absurd.

Read the decision at: Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. v. Froese