How Damage to Natural Gas Pipes Can Be Avoided
The majority of all serious natural gas accidents are caused by excavators or someone inadvertently hitting a buried pipe while digging. The best way for an excavator to prevent damage to pipes is to first:
- Plan digging activities.
- Premark a 15′ radius (“safety zone”) around the planned excavation site using spray paint or another permanent marking method.
- Call the Dig Safe “one call” center at 72 hours before digging to have underground pipes and cables located. The toll-free Dig Safe phone number is 1-888-DIG-SAFE.
- After waiting at least 72 hours, begin digging.
- Be sure to hand dig and dig cautiously near pipes and cables.
The Dig Safe “One-Call” Utility Locating System
Anyone planning to dig should first pre-mark the excavation site and then call Dig Safe at 1-888-DIG-SAFE at least 72 hours before digging begins.
A call to Dig Safe should be made before starting any excavation project, large or small, including:
- Road repairs
- Planting trees and shrubs
- Major landscaping projects
- Rebuilding walls or driveways
- Building homes or additions
- Installing swimming pools
- Installing sewer lines, septic systems or drains
After receiving a call, Dig Safe will then notify utilities in the area. The utilities are responsible for visiting the site and marking the location of their underground pipes and cables. Calling Dig Safe can prevent personal injury property damage, fines and the expense of repairing underground utilities.
How Does Dig Safe Work?
When Dig Safe receives the call, it sends electronic “tickets” to all local utilities with the following information:
The name of the utilities in the area.
- The location and description of the excavation site.
- The type of excavation work.
- The dig date (must be at least 72 hours away).
- The name, company name and phone number of the caller and the excavator.
Note: Dig Safe phone lines are recorded and detailed records filed.
- The utility or its designated locator has 72 hours, except in an emergency, to locate its pipes or cables in the area. The utility uses maps and special equipment capable of detecting underground pipes or cables, and marks the location of the facilities with paint.
- The utility or its designated locator completes and files a ticket, noting whether or not its pipes or cables were in the area and also the date and time it marked the underground utilities.
- After the 72-hour waiting period has ended, the excavator may begin to dig.
- If digging activities have not been completed within 30 days of the initial Dig Safe call, the excavator must call Dig Safe again to have the underground utilities remarked.
What to Expect if a Natural Gas Pipeline is Damaged
When a natural gas pipe is hit and ruptured, the gas can often be seen venting from the damaged section of the pipe or even heard. This occurs because the gas is under pressure.
Because natural gas is lighter than air, it will rise and dissipate if given a means to vent. Natural gas also has a very limited flammability range, and will only ignite if there is a 5-15% gas-to-air mixture and a source of ignition.
At the site of a pipeline break also expect:
- To smell natural gas in the area. Natural gas is odorless, but gas utilities add an odorant, called mercaptan, to natural gas to make leaks easy to detect. This odorant is safe to smell.
- To see the local fire department. They often receive the first call about the accident.
- The fire chief is the person responsible at the scene, and may evacuate certain nearby homes and/or buildings as a safety precaution.
- To see the local police. They ensure a safe and continuous traffic flow and may reroute traffic.
- To see a Bay State Gas crew making the repairs.
Typically, before Bay State repairs a damaged gas pipe, it must first either:
Continue venting the natural gas to atmosphere in a controlled manner, allowing it to rise and dissipate safely, while building a bypass to reroute the gas away from the section of damaged pipe. Stop the flow of gas to the section of damaged pipe using shut-off valves or other means. Both repair methods have been used throughout the natural gas industry for many years. Bay State Gas employees have had years of experience in knowing how to use both methods effectively.