Most are aware that Delaware County is a critical component of our nation’s transportation infrastructure. In addition to major highways that accommodate hundreds of thousands of motor vehicles daily we are home to an international airport, passenger and commercial rail systems and marine terminals. Many are not aware that a network of underground transmission pipelines also crosses the County.
Pipelines that traverse our area are part of a system of more than two and a half million miles of pipelines that cross the United States and silently and safely transport hazardous liquids and gases around the clock every day. Pipelines are predominantly located underground to protect them from damage. They vary in diameter, operating pressures, products transported and length.
Most pipelines are situated in a “right-of-way” that consists of consecutive property easements acquired by, or granted to, the pipeline companies. A pipeline right-of-way provides sufficient space to perform pipeline maintenance and inspections, as well as a clear zone where encroachments can be monitored and prevented.
Pipeline operators post markers along a right-of-way, including where the pipeline crosses under roadways and railroads.
Markers can vary in size, shape and color, but all markers include important information about the pipeline including the product transported, the pipeline operator’s name and the operator’s emergency contact number to report pipeline problems. Markers do not indicate the depth of the line, the number of lines in the right-of-way or the exact location of a pipeline. Note: Small diameter pipelines, known as distribution pipelines, maintained by local gas utility companies that deliver to homes and businesses typically do not have permanent pipeline markers.
Anyone planning to dig in the ground, regardless of whether a pipeline or other underground utility is known to be present, must call 811 to have pipelines and utilities located and marked before beginning the job. Depending on the specifics of the project, the pipeline operator or utility company may be required to be onsite while the digging takes place within their right-of-way.
Pipeline markers are important safety signs. It is a federal crime to willfully deface, damage, remove or destroy a pipeline marker.
Know What’s Below – ALWAYS Call Before You Dig
Damage to pipelines from excavation activity is the most common cause of pipeline emergencies. Before you plant a tree, install a fence, build a swimming pool or dig on your property for any reason, call 811 to have pipelines and other underground utility lines located and marked. State law requires all excavators to call 811.
In Pennsylvania this is a free service for residences. When you call 811, a representative will coordinate with all utilities, including pipeline operators in the area to mark the location of their lines with color coded flags, stakes or temporary paint.
Landowners are responsible for providing access to the area where digging will take place. So please make sure that gates are unlocked or that someone is available to provide access for pipeline operator and utility company personnel. Once lines are located, respect the markings and dig with care. Do not hesitate to contact 811 again if you have questions about the markings or appropriate digging procedures and equipment.
This is the link to the PA One Call Center website https://www.pa1call.org/pa811/Default.aspx.
Please Note: Pennsylvania State Law requires 3 business days’ notice prior to scheduled work, but no more than 10.
Best Practices for Excavation Contractors
Industry statistics show that the most common cause of pipeline damage is excavation activity. Excavators can protect employees, equipment and the public by knowing where pipelines are located and how to respond to or prevent a pipeline leak or rupture.
Excavators must contact 811 to have pipelines and other underground utility lines marked prior to starting a project. Once lines have been located, respect the markings and use appropriate equipment and excavation procedures near the pipeline.
Excavators can now submit tickets via web-based tool instead of calling by clicking here.
Questions about how to properly dig near a pipeline or utility or how to interpret the markings should be directed to the pipeline operator and/or utility company.
An Excavation Safety Guide that includes reference information regarding 811 notification requirements, tips for safe digging near pipelines and a poster to share with employees is available at this link: Excavation Safety Guide
Local Emergency Planning
The Delaware County Department of Emergency Services in collaboration with local fire and police departments include pipeline and utility related incidents as part of their emergency response preplanning. The County also maintains contact with local pipeline operators and utility companies.
If you Cause, Witness or Suspect a Pipeline is Damaged or Leaking
If you suspect a problem with a pipeline or associated aboveground facility, including gas meters, outside your home or business:
- Leave the area immediately in an upwind direction.
- From a safe location, call 911 and the pipeline operator (number is on a pipeline marker).
- Do not operate vehicles, mechanical equipment, cell phones, electronic devices or any item that could create a spark near a suspected leak.
- Do not light a match or cigarette.
- Avoid contact with liquids or gases coming from the pipeline.
Products transported in pipelines can be odorless or have a distinct odor. So it is important to use your sense of sight and sound as well as smell to identify a potential leak. Signs of a potential leak may include:
- Dead or dying vegetation near the pipeline
- Pools of liquid or fire on the ground near the pipeline
- Dirt or debris blowing into the air
- A dense white cloud or fog near the pipeline
- Hissing, gurgling or roaring sounds
- Strong petroleum scent or other pungent odor
- A smell similar to rotten eggs or sulfur
If you live or work near a pipeline, make sure that the pipeline operator’s name and emergency number are included in your emergency contact list. Make note of permanent pipeline markers located along the general route of the pipeline. Pipeline markers include the operator’s name, emergency number and a description of the product transported.
Additional General Information on Pipelines: www.pipeline101.com/why-do-we-need-pipelines