Pipeline companies take their responsibility seriously to ensure safe and reliable operations. The affected public along the pipeline route can also play an important role in pipeline safety. Awareness is the key to preventing pipeline accidents. Eyes and ears along our national pipeline network can assist with identifying potential problems, such as unauthorized excavation on the right-of-way. Everyone can contribute to safety and security by knowing where pipelines are in their communities, how to recognize unauthorized activity or abnormal conditions that could be a leak and how to respond in the case of a pipeline accident.
Everyone should also be aware of his or her state’s system for contacting the local One Call Center. Anyone planning to dig or excavate—whether it is building a fence, digging drainage ditches, adding an addition to a house or building a new facility— is responsible for contacting the state’s One Call Center first to ensure that underground utilities are not hit during digging or excavation activities.
The liquid pipeline industry has a goal of error-free, spill-free operations and is continuing to improve its safety record. One part of achieving this goal is preventing damage.
Oil and gas pipeline companies have joined with other infrastructure operators – electric utilities, fiber optic cables, telephone lines, water and sewer mains – to create and often finance “One Call Centers” that serve all 50 states and the District of Columbia. While laws vary by state, they all require most excavators to contact the One Call Center responsible for their area before any digging begins.
“Call 811” is a campaign led by the government and underground utilities to support communications efforts to raise public awareness of the One Call Center process and how to contact the appropriate center. “Call 811” also provides guidance on safe digging practices, including accurately locating and marking pipelines and other underground infrastructures.
Considerable success already has been realized. Pipelines delivered 99.999% of crude oil and petroleum products safety to their destination, amounting to over 16 billion barrels in 2015 and representing a 20% increase since 2010. While pipeline miles have increased 13% over the last five years, safety continues to be the industry's first priority. Incidents per mile larger than 500 barrels have also decreased 32% since 2010.
While permanent pipeline markers are located at roads, railways, and other intervals along the right-of-way, these show only the approximate location of the buried pipelines. The depth and location of the pipelines vary within the right-of-way. The right-of-way exists in many kinds of terrain from river crossings and cultivated fields to urban areas. Because of this, there is no distinct "look" to the right-of-way.
Any excavation project within the right-of-way or near the right-of-way requires the excavator to dial 811 contact the local One Call Center to tell them when and where digging will occur, so an accident is prevented. Most of these accidents can be prevented by using the One Call Center system to identify the location of nearby pipelines. The national “call-before-you-dig” number is 811, which routes the call to a local One Call Center. Industry has worked closely with the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) to develop best practices for damage prevention programs. This work has proved successful in reducing pipeline incidents caused be excavation damage.
Some people mistakenly believe that they don't need to contact a One Call Center because they think they can tell the precise location of a pipeline by drawing a straight line between right-of-way marker signs. People should still call a One Call Center because:
- Right-of-way markers along a pipeline route or at a grade crossing only show the approximate location of a pipeline because the right-of-way they are marking is much wider than the pipeline. Thus, the markers are not always located precisely over a line. (Nor do the markers indicate the depth of the line.)
- A pipeline may curve or make an angle underground as it runs between markers in order to avoid some natural or man-made feature such as a historical site or another underground facility such as a television cable.
Using the One Call Center when digging around an energy pipeline, or any other underground feature, is the only way to determine the true location of a pipeline. Even after the area has been marked, any digging around the marks should be carefully conducted to precisely locate the facility. Besides - calling before you dig is the law in most states. Call Before You Dig.