How Can You Help with Safety?

Key Takeaways

  • Calling 811 before excavating reduces the risk of causing damage to less than one percent.
  • Right-of-way markers along a pipeline route or at a grade crossing only show the approximate location but not the depth of a buried pipeline.
  • A pipeline leak may have occurred if you notice abnormal conditions along a right-of-way.

Members of the public living or working near a pipeline play a critical role in protecting our nation’s energy infrastructure network.

Pipeline & Critical Infrastructure Protection

Calling 811 or clicking before you dig to request that underground utility owners mark the location of underground lines prior to digging is the only way to avoid damaging buried utilities like pipelines. Calling 811 or clicking before digging prior to excavating reduces the risk of causing damage to less than one percent. Even after the area has been marked, any digging around the marks should be carefully conducted.

Pipeline operators also partner with farmers and agricultural groups on safe digging best practices when using heavy excavation equipment.

Safety Checklist:

  • Call or click before you dig
  • Be aware of temporary markers/flags
  • Don’t remove pipeline markers
  • Report suspicious behavior or unauthorized excavation to local law enforcement
  • Get to know your pipeline operator

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 may 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 a right-of-way.

Some people mistakenly believe that they don’t need to call or click 811 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 811 because:

  • Right-of-way markers along a pipeline route or at a grade crossing only show the approximate location but not the depth of a buried pipeline.
  • A pipeline may curve or make an angle underground as it runs between markers in order to avoid natural or man-made features such as a historical or cultural site or other underground utility such as a fiber optic cable.

How do you recognize and report a leak?

Pipeline operators have multiple ways to detect leaks, from computer-based leak detection systems to regular patrols of the pipeline right-of-way, whether through regular aerial surveillance by airplane, ground patrols, helicopter, or unmanned aerial system. However, pipeline incidents, while rare, do still happen. The best way for you to detect a spill in your neighborhood is to use your senses of sight, smell and sound. New homeowners or tenants are encouraged to learn more about leak recognition and mitigation for individual commodities transported by pipeline through the DOT/PHMSA Emergency Response Guidebook or the Pipeline Association for Public Awareness’ (PAPA) Pipeline Emergency Response Guidelines.

A leak may have occurred if you:

  • See a patch of dead or discolored vegetation in an otherwise green area, an unusual pool of liquid on the ground, a sink hole, a colorful sheen on water, or a cloud of vapor or mist not usually present along the pipeline right-of-way;
  • Smell an unusual odor, such as rotten eggs, or the scent of petroleum along a pipeline right-of-way;
  • Hear an unusual hissing or roaring sound along a pipeline right-of-way.
  • See dirt blowing from a hole in the ground, areas of frozen ground in the summer, or unusual, melted snow in the winter; hear a hissing or whistling noise, which may be indicative of a leak from a natural gas, carbon dioxide, or hydrogen gas pipeline.

What should you do if a pipeline leak occurs?

If you have detected signs that a leak may have occurred, you should take the following actions:

  • Leave the leak area immediately. Walk into the wind away from the possible hazardous fumes and in an uphill direction.
  • Do not touch, breathe, or make contact with leaking liquids or vapors. Oil, natural gas, and carbon dioxide can displace oxygen, collect in low areas, and cause asphyxiation
  • Do not light a match, start an engine, use a cell phone, switch on/off light switches, or do anything that may create a spark.
  • From a safe location, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency response number and the pipeline company. Call collect, if needed, and give your name, phone number, a description of the leak and its location.
  • Warn others if you can do so safely.
  • Do not drive into a leak or vapor cloud area.

Additional resources, such as the Emergency Response Guidebook and the Emergency Response Guidelines, can help stakeholders identify unique leak recognition symptoms and follow appropriate emergency response steps. Learn more about how operators and local first responders prepare for and respond in the unlikely event of a pipeline incident.