Pipeline Safety in Rural Areas

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DPC of TExas

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I don’t get much argument when I say that pipelines are everywhere in Texas, especially in an urban environment where it’s a virtual spaghetti bowl of steel and plastic pipes within a stone’s throw of wherever you happen to be standing. That said, not all pipelines are created equal. Urban pipelines are predominantly natural gas distribution operating between a few ounces of pressure to a maximum of 60 pounds per square inch (psi), whereas rural pipelines tend to be large diameter transmission lines up to 48” in diameter transporting everything from gases to hazardous liquids operating from a few hundred pounds of pressure up to 1,500 psi or higher. You’ve seen pipeline markers out in the country indicating that a pipeline easement is crossing the property or a roadway but for the most part, these transmission pipelines are out of sight and out of mind. Despite what the media might make it out to be, transmission pipeline accidents are rare, but when there is an incident it tends to be pretty spectacular and makes the national news. Almost 1/3 of all transmission pipeline failures are due to someone striking the pipeline with some type of heavy equipment, a completely preventable accident if only the person would have called 811. Every rural landowner and contractor should be aware that state law requires you to “Know What’s Below, Call 811 Before You Dig” at least 48 hours in advance if your project involves land contouring, root plowing, terracing, grubbing, fencing, road building, dozing, or any other excavation activities where you intend to go 16” or more in depth. Because wind & water erosion can affect the depth of the underground pipelines over the years, we also recommend that farmers with pipeline easements crossing their fields notify the pipeline company to verify pipeline depth prior to plowing to plant crops. 

Make the Call
Contacting Texas811 is your best method of notifying pipeline operators of your intent to excavate at NO COST to you. Call “811” and provide your project information to one of our Damage Prevention Agents or preferably, go on-line at www.texas811.org and enter the information yourself designating your work site with the user-friendly mapping feature. You will be issued a confirmation email which documents notification of your intent to dig or scrape as well as a list of all pipeline (and utility) operators who were notified. Be advised that while state law only applies to excavation activities 16” or more in depth, pipelines and other underground facilities may be encountered at any depth due to erosion or grading so it’s always a good idea to make the free call. Never rely on pipeline markers to identify the precise location of a pipeline as the markers are only an indicator that a pipeline is in the area and are rarely positioned directly over the pipeline.

Wait for Locates
You should expect the pipeline operator to contact you within 48 hours by either marking the approximate location of the pipeline using paint, stakes, or flags, notifying you by email that their pipeline is not in conflict with your project, or to arrange for a face-to-face, on-site meeting. If for any reason a company listed on your confirmation email does not respond by any of the listed methods, call 811 again and submit a “No-Response” request identifying which pipeline operator has not responded. Never dig until you receive a positive response from every operator notified.

Avoid Damage
Most transmission pipeline operators want to be on-site when you are working within 25’ of their pipeline and may want to take additional precautions to ensure that the pipeline is protected from damage. If the pipeline representative requests to observe your excavation around their pipeline, you are required to accommodate their request. Determine the precise depth of the pipeline before excavating with dozers, maintainers, or any other scraping type equipment in the immediate vicinity of the pipeline. Be advised that the pipeline may not maintain a consistent depth along the pipeline route so more than one exposure may be necessary. Before digging or trenching in the immediate vicinity of the pipeline, expose the outside edge safely and without damage to the pipe and then maintain a clearance of a minimum of 18” plus half the diameter from the outside edge of the pipe. State law prohibits the use of mechanized equipment within this tolerance zone punishable with a fine of $2,500 or more! Do not remove flags, stakes or paint marks until you’ve completed your project and if the job will take more than 14 working days, be sure to contact Texas811 between the 10th & the 12th working day to update the ticket. Remember, if at any time you need the markings to be refreshed or you would like to have the pipeline locator visit the site again, contact Texas811 free of charge. When your excavation is complete, carefully backfill and compact the soil around the pipe ensuring that no rocks or sharp material is in contact with the pipe coating. If you accidently damage the pipeline’s protective coating and it is not repaired by the operator prior to backfill, eventually corrosion will set in and cause the pipe to fail, potentially causing a major incident. Always report damage to the protective coating to the pipeline operator no matter how minor it may seem.

Stay Safe
If you strike a pipeline and can “hear it, see it, or smell it”, immediately leave the area in an upwind/uphill direction and warn others to stay away. Do not operate any mechanical or electrical equipment in an area where you suspect a leak and eliminate any potential ignition sources. From a safe location, call 911 immediately and then notify 811 within 1 hour to report the “Dig-Up”. If you have the pipeline operator representative’s phone number, contact them immediately after calling 911 to report the leak. All pipeline markers are required to identify the pipeline operator and a telephone number to call in the event of an emergency as well as the product transported in the line. 

Always remember that 811 works everywhere in the United States, no matter how remote, and no job is too small to make the call to 811. It’s fast, it’s free, and it’s the law! For specific information on pipeline damage prevention and excavation safety laws, contact me at 512-963-0034 or by email at dougmeeks@texas811.org

Other pipeline safety resources include:
Texas811: www.texas811.org
Damage Prevention Council of Texas: www.dpcoftexas.org
Pipeline Ag Safety Alliance: www.pipelineagsafetyalliance.com
Texas Pipeline Awareness Alliance: www.pipeline-safety.org

Doug Meeks

Damage Prevention Manager, Texas811
Vice President, DPC of Texas

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