April is National Safe Digging Month, States Have Important Role to Play

April is National Pipeline Safe Digging Month, and yesterday the Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) blogged about the importance of dialing 811 - the National Call Before You Dig Number - before performing any excavation work. Although many not realize it, excavation damage is the number one cause for serious pipeline accidents that impact not only the environment but public safety as well.

The nation’s 2.5 million miles of pipeline can be divided into two categories: intrastate (pipeline mileage completely within a state’s borders) and interstate (pipelines that cross one or more state boundaries for interstate commerce).  According to recent statistics compiled by the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR), states comprise 75 percent of the entire pipeline safety inspection force and have direct safety authority over more than 99 percent of regulated intrastate natural gas and 84 percent of intrastate hazardous liquid (oil, petroleum products) systems and carbon dioxide pipelines in the country. They also found that state inspectors have safety authority over more than 99 percent of the two million miles of natural gas distribution pipelines (pipelines serving retail consumers), 49 percent of the 329,000 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines, and 34 percent of the 187,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines.

Excavation damage is the leading cause of fatal and injurious pipeline accidents. The Association of Oil Pipe Lines and the American Petroleum Institute estimate that while excavation damage by third parties makes up only 7 percent of overall oil pipeline spills, they disproportionately account for nearly 30 percent of all significant incidents that kill or injure people. 
The 2002 Pipeline Safety Improvement Act created a three-digit toll-free number or “One-Call” for excavators to contact before digging so underground utilities can be properly marked and located. A non-profit association called the Common Ground Alliance was created and financially supported by private companies, industry trade associations, state regulators and the Department of Transportation to promote 811, the designated three digit One-Call number. In addition, the Alliance shares best practices to ensure public safety, environmental protection, and to enhance public awareness of excavation damage.  Calls can be made to 811 from anywhere in the country and routed to a local One-Call center in a state. Operators at local One-Call centers then determine the location of the proposed dig and send information about the excavation to affected infrastructure companies like pipelines or utilities. Under most state One-Call regulations, excavators must wait a specified amount of time before beginning any proposed project (usually 24-48 hours), to allow operators of underground infrastructure sufficient time to locate and mark their underground facilities to prevent accidental excavation damage.
To learn more about the pipelines in your state, check out DOT's Pipeline Safety Stakeholder Communications page and find out how you can help promote 811 and safe digging practices.