Pipelines are the safest and most efficient means of transporting natural gas and petroleum products, according to National Transportation Safety Board statistics. In the United States alone, there are over 200,000 miles of petroleum pipelines and 300,000 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines in use every day. These pipelines transport the natural gas, which provides about 24 percent of all the energy used in the United States, and over 700 million gallons of petroleum products per day, to American consumers and businesses. Local distribution companies (LDCs) deliver natural gas to most homes and business through underground main and utility service lines. These lines cover over 800,000 miles of underground pipeline in the United States. When you learn and follow the guidelines contained here, not only do you help ensure that energy and natural resources continue to flow smoothly and safely to your town and other towns like it, but you also become a steward of the environment.

How You Can Help?

While accidents pertaining to pipelines and pipeline facilities are very rare, awareness of the location of the pipeline, the potential hazards, and what to do if a leak does occur can help minimize the number of accidents that do occur. A leading cause of pipeline incidents is third-party excavation damage. Pipeline operators are responsible for the safety and security of their respective pipelines. To help maintain the integrity of pipelines and their rights-of-way, it is essential that pipeline and facility neighbors protect against unauthorized excavations or other destructive activities. Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Become familiar with the pipelines and pipeline facilities in the area (marker signs, fence signs at gated entrances, etc.)
  • Record the operator name, contact information and any pipeline information from nearby marker/facility signs and keep in a permanent location near the telephone.
  • Be aware of any unusual or suspicious activities or unauthorized excavations taking place within or near the pipeline right-of-way or pipeline facility; report any such activities to the pipeline operator and the local law enforcement.

How would you know where a pipeline is?

Pipeline markers are important for the safety of the general public and provide emergency responders with critical information. Most pipelines are underground, where they are more protected from the elements and minimize interference with surface uses. Even so, pipeline rights-of-way are clearly identified by pipeline markers along pipeline routes that identify the approximate – NOT EXACT – location of the pipeline. Every pipeline marker contains information identifying the company that operates the pipeline, the product transported, and a phone number that should be called in the event of an emergency. Markers do not indicate pipeline burial depth, which will vary. Markers are typically seen where a pipeline intersects a street, highway or railway. For any person to willfully deface, damage, remove or destroy any pipeline marker is a federal crime.

Transmission Pipeline Mapping

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline Safety has developed the theNational Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) to provide information about pipeline operators and their pipelines. The NPMS web site is searchable by zip code or by county and state and can display a county map that is printable. For a list of pipeline operators with pipelines in your area and their contact information, go to the National Pipeline Mapping System website.

What to do in case of damaging or disturbing a pipeline

If you cause or witness even minor damage to a pipeline or its protective coating during the course of an excavation or digging project, please immediately notify the pipeline company. The PIPES Act requires excavators to call 911 if excavation damage causes a pipeline leak. Even a small disturbance to a pipeline’s integrity may cause a future leak due to subsequent corrosion. A gouge, scrape, dent or crease is cause enough for the company to inspect the damage and make any repairs necessary to the pipeline or any other related facility. Some states have laws that require any damage to pipelines be reported to the pipeline company and/or the appropriate One Call Center. Excavators must notify the pipeline company through the One Call Center immediately but not later than two hours following the damage incident.

Damage to underground facility

Report to Operator. An excavator shall, as soon as is practical, notify the operator when any damage occurs to an underground facility as a result of excavation. The notice shall include the type of facility damaged and the extent of the damage. If damage occurs, an excavator shall refrain from backfilling in the immediate area of the underground facilities until the damage has been investigated by the operator, unless the operator authorizes otherwise. If the damage results in an emergency, the excavator shall take all reasonable actions to alleviate the emergency including, but not limited to, the evacuation of the affected area. The excavator shall leave all equipment situated where the equipment was at the time the emergency was created and immediately contact the operator and appropriate authorities and necessary emergency response agencies.

How would you recognize a pipeline leak?

Although pipeline leaks are rare, knowing how to recognize and respond to a possible leak is a key component in pipeline safety. Trust your sense.

You may recognize a leak by:

What to do in the event a leak were to occur?

The following guidelines are designed to ensure your safety and the safety of those in the area if a petroleum product or natural gas pipeline leak is suspected or detected:

What do the pipeline companies do in the event a leak was to occur?

In order to prepare for the event of a leak, pipeline companies regularly communicate, plan and train with local emergency personnel such as fire and police departments. Some pipeline companies also implement local safety awareness programs in order to educate excavators and emergency responders of the potential hazards of underground utilities. Upon the notification of an incident or leak, either by the pipeline company’s internal control center or by phone, the pipeline operator will immediately dispatch trained personnel to assist public safety officials in their response to the emergency. Pipeline operators and emergency responders are trained to protect life, property and their facilities in the case of an emergency. Pipeline operators will also take steps to minimize the amount of product that leaks out and to isolate the pipeline emergency.