As construction and development continue to gravitate toward more rural areas, gas companies urge all excavators, including construction firms, landscaping companies, homebuilders and land developers, to educate themselves on safe digging practices. Even minor contact with a pipeline or underground propane storage tank, such as a small dent, chip or scratch, can cause major damage down the road if not professionally repaired.
Remember to call before you dig!
By law, all individuals planning any digging, ditching, drilling, leveling or plowing activity must contact Miss Utility at least 48 hours (Maryland and Washington, D.C.) or two working days (Delaware) beforehand, via ITIC (www.missutility.net/itic) or by calling 811 or 1-866-821-4226. Representatives from the appropriate gas company will then come to the location and mark their underground lines or tanks with highly visible markers, free of charge.
Contacting Miss Utility before you dig is the only way to determine the true location of a pipeline. Some people assume they can pinpoint a pipeline’s location simply by drawing a straight line between two or more pipeline markers. These markers, however, do not indicate actual depth and are not always located precisely over the line. In addition, a pipeline may curve or twist underground to avoid natural or manmade objects, such as tree roots or television cable.
Know your gas safety
Here are a few safety tips for excavators to keep in mind:
• Trust your senses. The three main ways to detect a gas leak are:
SMELL — To help you SMELL a leak from a gas line or appliance, a familiar odor like rotten eggs is added to natural gas and propane.
SEE — Near a leaking gas pipeline, you might SEE blowing dirt, bubbling water or an unusual area of dead vegetation.
HEAR — A leaking pipeline, appliance, storage tank or cylinder might make a hissing sound you can HEAR.
• If you suspect a leak, don't try to stop it or use anything that could create a spark—not even a cell phone. Instead, leave the area completely and call the gas company listed on the nearest pipeline marker. If no company is listed, call 911.
• If you come in contact with a pipeline or storage tank and cause minor damage such as a dent, gouge, scratch or break in coatings, you are required by Maryland law to call the appropriate utility with the type and location of the damage. Please allow the utility company time to repair the pipeline or tank. If your contact with the pipeline or tank results in a release of gas, please contact the appropriate utility and 911. Then take the appropriate steps listed above to keep yourself and the surrounding property safe.
Steps gas companies take to keep you safe—and informed
Gas companies work hard to protect their pipelines and underground storage tanks from natural hazards and third-party damage. In addition to installing highly visible pipeline markers, many natural gas companies perform aerial, ground and marine inspections of their ROWs; conduct annual leak surveys; and install sophisticated leak detection equipment. To build awareness, natural gas companies sponsor public education programs, meet regularly with public and emergency officials and conduct excavator education sessions. For more information about these sessions, please contact your local natural gas company.
The propane industry sponsors a preventative maintenance program called GAS Check® (Gas Appliance System Check). As part of this program, trained technicians inspect homeowners’ propane appliances to ensure they are running as safely and efficiently as possible. The program also educates homeowners on the proper use of these appliances and how to avoid potential health hazards. A Certified Employee Training Program for propane handlers is available as well.
Report unauthorized activity
You can help by reporting any suspicious activity or unauthorized digging occurring at or near your job sites. If you suspect ANY illegal digging, call the gas company listed on the nearest pipeline marker right away. If no company is listed, call 911.