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Front Page » April 18, 2006 » Local News » Gas companies stress safety
Published 3,964 days ago

Gas companies stress safety

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Staff Writer

Participants look over the information at the booths at the safety awareness breakfast.

A public education and contractor awareness program was held recently at the Carbon County Community Center. The topic of this program was pipeline safety. Contractors and city employees from the Emery/Carbon county area were in attendance for the informational activity sponsored by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Questar Pipeline Company, and XTO Energy Incorporated.

Bill Finster of the Pipeline Group, opened the program by saying, "Sometimes the laws, rules and regulations concerning digging and excavation projects can be confusing. We are here to take that confusion away. How many miles of underground gas or hazardous liquid pipeline would you say you have here in Utah?" he asked.

After many guesses, one gentleman came very close with a guess of 42,000 miles. In Utah, there are 42,874 miles of pipeline that carries natural gas or other hazardous liquids. The national average is around 52,000, so Utah is just under the national average. "It is important to protect these pipelines for safety's sake and for the convenience of delivering a product," said Finster. He noted that pipelines are by far the safest method for transporting hazardous liquids.

Finster explained the method which many pipeline companies use to inspect those lines for damage or weakness. A Smart Pig, is inserted into the line. This Smart Pig is a mechanical device with computerized modules that can travel through the pipeline and inspect it for flaws or damage which may become a problem to the safety of the pipelines use.

The Smart Pig can recognize and identify any problems which exist inside the pipeline. When the Smart Pig is removed from the pipeline, the computer data is analyzed and repairs are immediately completed. "This versatile tool has been used to prevent many accidents," Finster added.

Many of the transportation systems used to move hazardous liquids from location to location have inherent problems and safety issues. Low pressure gas lines, the type used to provide natural gas into homes and businesses, are the type which will ignite easier if the line is disturbed. Many of the transmission pipes are plastic, which can produce its own static electricity and produce an ignition source.

"My main theme for today is to 'call before you dig,'" said Finster. "It's the law and if a contractor does not call and causes a problem, the repair bill can be staggering, let alone deadly if someone gets hurt or killed. Also, be aware that propane is heavier than air and will linger at ground level and settle in basements and can be very hazardous.

Emery County Commissioner Gary Kofford, far right-front table, listens to the safety presentation.

"The notification center in Utah is the Blue Stakes program. A call must be put into Blue Stakes two days before the planned excavation. All underground utilities in Utah belong to Blue Stakes. Everyone who plans to do any excavation must call Blue Stakes before beginning to dig. That includes all professional contractors and even do-it-yourself projects.

"The only exceptions to this is in emergency situations, personal home gardening, and tilling on private property. A copy of Utah State law can be obtained at The telephone number for Blue Stakes is 1-800-662-4111, and must be made two days in advance of the digging project, and no more than seven days. This application will require much personal information plus all the locational information about the project as possible.

"You will be given a verification number for the project. Keep this number on file. Members of the utility that belong to Blue Stakes will come to the site and mark any facilities which they have in your area. Also, look around for any right-of-way markers from pipelines or other utilities around your excavation site. There will be contact information on these signs.

"If things should go wrong and you do damage a pipeline, you need to be able to recognize and deal with the problem. Report any damage done to a pipeline, even something as minor as a scratch, to the owner. A scratch could cause the pipeline to corrode or rupture sometime in the future, and the owner of the pipeline will want to do any repair it deems necessary before the line is reburied.

"Be alert for sounds, smells or otherwise noticed clues to pipeline damage. If you detect any damage, call 911 immediately. They will notify the emergency responders and will take steps to evacuate the area if necessary. Call the utility involved and keep people out of the area. Just because the gas may not be burning or may have exploded immediately, doesn't mean that it is not going to. Many times explosions happen quite a while after the rupture of the pipe.

"Not only are pipelines dangerous, but electricity lines, water lines, sewer line, drain lines and communication and cable TV lines are underground. Disruption of these services can be very costly also, not only in terms of dollars but the disruption of emergency services. If telephone lines are out, no one in the area will be able to place a phone call to 911.

"Wrongful death law suits have been filed against contractors who disrupt communications, and someone has died because emergency services could not be contacted. The bottom line is 'Call before you dig. Everyone should know the products that are transported by pipelines in the area, enter any questionable area from upwind, evacuate everyone to a safe distance, identify the utility and notify them, extinguish any secondary fires, do not interfere with the operation of the pipeline and do not shut off any valves, work in harmony with the incident commander, and keep any escaping liquids from entering manholes or drains," concluded Finster.

Gary Hansen of Blue Stakes said the organization came into existence 30 years ago with the three major utilities as members. Now, more than 400 entities are members. During 2005, Blue Stakes handled more than 300,000 locate requests. He reminded everyone to dig safely and call before you dig. Blue Stakes has numerous materials available for contractors and private citizens to explain the Dig Safely campaign. Call 1-800-662-4111 or visit

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