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May 18, 2005

Safety Tips from the Local Emergency Planning Committee

Dig Safely to Avoid Pipeline Accidents

According to the Department of Transportation, there are 1.6 million miles of pipelines in the United States. These include liquid production, gathering and transmission lines; gas production, gathering, storage and transmission lines; and gas distribution lines. According to statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board, pipelines are the safest method of transporting the products we use from each of these systems.

The nation's pipelines are a transportation system that enables the safe movement of extraordinary quantities of energy products to industry and consumers, literally fueling our economy and way of life. The arteries of the nation's energy infrastructure, and the safest and least costly way to transport energy products, our oil and gas pipelines provide the resources needed for national defense, to heat and cool our homes, generate power for business, and fuel an unparalleled transportation system.

The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), part of the federal Department of Transportation, is the federal safety authority for the nation's 2.3 million miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. The agency's mission is to ensure the safe, reliable, and environmentally sound operation of the nation's pipeline transportation system.

According to the OPS, pipelines are operated under a variety of federal and state regulations and industry standards that are intended to ensure public and environmental safety and health. These regulations and standards address all aspects of pipeline operations, including where they are built, how they are built, operated and maintained, how they are tested, and programs and procedures that ensure safety requirements are met.

Additionally, government organizations such as the National Transportation Safety Board and private citizen groups monitor the operation of pipelines and make recommendations for improvements and changes. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of pipeline operators to ensure the safety of their own pipelines. Pipeline operators follow regulatory guidance and industry standards in maintaining and operating their pipelines.

But contractors, homeowners and others should be aware of the presence of pipelines in their neighborhoods and follow the regulations around them. Pipeline markers can be placed at roadsides, railroad and river crossings, fence lines, ditches and other sites. Don't assume a pipeline is located in a straight line between pipeline right-of-way markers. Pipeline routes try to follow the natural contour of the land; therefore, to avoid natural barriers they may curve slightly.

Anyone planning to dig, especially in an area that appears to be a pipeline right-of-way or where the presence of a pipeline is suspected, should call Dig Safely New York at 1-800-962-7962 at least two full working days before you dig. Even homeowners doing their own work should call to ensure they do not accidentally damage a pipeline.

Dig Safely New York is a free notification network for buried facility stake-out requests. With one call, you can notify several member utility owners in your area of an impending dig. Once notified, each utility must locate and mark their facilities relative to the location of the planned excavation.

These calls are extremely important because they help avoid pipeline ruptures resulting from digging. Digging is the largest single cause of pipeline accidents.

If you accidentally hit a pipeline while you are digging, follow these steps immediately:

  • Turn off all equipment.
  • Eliminate all ignition sources.
  • Leave the area immediately, staying upwind. Advise co-workers and citizens.
  • Notify 911 and pipeline operators.
  • Do NOT operate pipeline valves.

More information on the Dig Safely New York Program is available at www.digsafelynewyork.com. Pipeline safety information is available from the Office of Pipeline Safety, online at www.dot.gov.

Sources: Dig Safely New York and the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety.

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