In America's pipeline community, it is customary on August 11 – or 8/11 – to celebrate our national Call-Before-You-Dig number , 8-1-1. Whether you're a contractor with a large excavation project or a homeowner planning a family garden, calling this number before you dig is an important step toward preventing accidental pipeline damage and potentially devastating injury.
One part of DOT's mission is to ensure that America's pipelines are safe, reliable and environmentally sound. But the safety of our nation's pipeline network – a combination of over 3000 public and private systems – is a shared responsibility. DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration works closely with state pipeline safety offices to ensure pipelines are properly inspected and that enforcement action is taken when necessary.
Still, pipeline incidents do happen.
Over the past 20 years, excavation damage has been the number one cause of pipeline incidents that result in fatality, injury, or significant property damage. These incidents can occur during all types of underground work from digging before construction to tractor plowing while farming, and even to our neighbors planting in small gardens.
Fortunately, leaders such as the Common Ground Alliance have helped drive a decline in pipeline accidents by promoting damage prevention. For example, best practices and the continued push for widespread use of 8-1-1 have helped considerably.
But newer and stronger state excavation damage prevention laws can help save lives and property by further reducing the incidence of excavation damage to pipelines and other underground utilities.
We need to continue building and sharing knowledge about state damage prevention programs and laws, and provide resources to stakeholders across the country through grant programs, data analysis, communication and partnerships.
Better, more effective enforcement of state damage prevention laws is a key to further reducing pipeline excavation damage incidents. And if more states take the initiative to pass excavation damage prevention laws that include effective enforcement, we can minimize the need to take federal enforcement action against excavators and pipeline operators that fail to carry out their damage prevention responsibilities.
Again, the responsibility for damage prevention is shared among many stakeholders, and their partnership has been absolutely essential in reducing excavation damages to all underground facilities, including hazardous liquid and natural gas pipelines. But we can do better.
For more information on damage prevention statistics and state programs, please visit http://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/DamagePrevention.htm.