Priorities In Dealing With Gas Line Hits

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | April 2013, Vol. 68 No. 4
Jerry Gann

While some projects are more dangerous than others, most construction work involves risks that can cause serious injury and death.

Underground utility construction often involves installations of pipe and cable in easements crowded with multiple utilities -- telecommunications, water and sewer pipes, power cables and natural gas lines. Accidentally damaging any utility is bad: essential services are interrupted, costly repairs are required, work on the project that caused the hit is delayed and most seriously, the safety of crew members and the public are exposed to risk.

Hitting a power line endangers construction crew members and others in the area of the accident, but damaging a gas line can result in a major disaster. Consider the 1998 incident in downtown St. Cloud, MN, that killed four people, injured 15 others, and destroyed three buildings, damaged another five so badly they had to be demolished, and required extensive repairs for 14 other structures.

The cause? A 1 1/8-inch plastic gas line was severed when workers, drilling a vertical hole to install an anchor for a guy line to support a utility pole, struck a large buried slab of concrete, bending the anchor rod and causing it to strike the gas line. Escaping gas migrated to an unoccupied building where it was ignited about 20 minutes after the pipe was struck.

Procedures are in place to prevent accidental utility hits: yet still they occur. When that happens, construction personnel must respond properly and without delay.

Jerry Gann, district director, Houston Northwest District, CenterPoint Energy, Houston, TX, provides some insights and “dos and don’ts” when excavator damage to a gas pipeline occurs.

“When a gas line is damaged and there is a release of gas, the two most important things are to protect life and property,” said Gann.

“For construction personnel on the job site,” he continued, “the first steps for crew members to take are to remove any ignition sources that could ignite escaping gas, including turning off engines, electrical devices and gas lights -- anything that could cause a spark -- evacuate and secure the area, and call 911 and the gas service provider.”

There also are important ‘Don’ts’: