During a recent ECDA of a gas pipeline it was determined that the loss of integrity was due to another utility’s attempt to directionally bore an expansion of their infrastructure. As one looks at the above photos, several questions come to mind. Were proper locates called in to the (811) one-call center? Did the existing pipeline company have an inspector on site to ensure proper distance was maintained between their facilities? Why did the operator not stop the boring procedure to investigate what they were bumping against underground? Did the contractor attempt to spot all existing utilities within their proposed construction zone before initiating the directional boring process? We will never know the answers to these questions, but one thing is certain, the cost of repairing the damage and the potential hazards from a pipline failure could have been catastrophic.
Over the past few years, pipeline safety has focused a great deal on public awareness (Title 49, Part 192.616) and damage prevention (Title 49, Part 192.614) regulations to help alleviate excavation mishaps. However, these regulations along with State 811 (Call Before You Dig) one-call centers cannot be stand-alone programs. Some states and regional areas have already recognized that there is still more that can be done. Many have initiated utility committees for the sole purpose of “Coordination through Cooperation and Communication”.
In short, all utilities and excavation contractors need to come together as one cohesive information network allowing for the sharing of readily available contact information and infrastructure records. Such genuine respect for each party’s infrastructures will enable every utility and contractor to complete their underground excavation in a manner that considers facility integrity and public safety as its number one priority. Additionally, such coordinated efforts should minimize construction cost brought about due to construction delays, lost labor hours and unwanted facility damages.
These proactive programs should be commended; however they do not come without their own set of problems. Although most utilities and large contractors are on board, how do you get the small one or two person general excavators to conform to the ideology? Further, it is hard enough to maintain records and receive quality locates on active lines but what about all those abandoned inactive lines that are still in the ground? Ask an excavation crew how often they have to stop work due to the uncovering or damage of an unmarked and unknown underground line. So how will antiquated abandoned lines be addressed? Finally, as our population grows, pipeline upgrade programs continue, and building construction expands into new territories we can expect our easements to become cluttered by both active and inactive systems.
Only the future will tell whether we succeed at “Coordination through Cooperation and Communication.”