New PA Law Could Decrease Number Of People Who Strike Pipelines, Cables

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STATE IMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – By including more pipelines in Pennsylvania’s one-call law and creating a more robust enforcement system, state officials hope to cut down on incidents where residents or excavators accidentally hit pipelines and cables when digging underground.

Those incidents happen 6,000 times per year in Pennsylvania. Before they dig, residents and contractors are required to dial 8-1-1 and ask for utility companies with lines or cables in their area to come out and mark the locations.

“No job is too small,” said Mike Davidson, general manager and vice president of Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania and Maryland. “We have damages from customers putting in mailboxes, planting trees.”

Speaking at a news conference Friday at a Columbia Gas training facility in Beaver County, Public Utility Commission Chair Gladys Brown said she wants to see the number of accidental hits to underground utility lines drop by half in five years.

“Every time that happens, there is a risk of serious injury or damage,” she said. “Each of these incidents poses a risk to the contractor and to the homeowners who are doing the digging, to the utility workers and the emergency responders who are mobilized when lines are struck.”

The PUC is spearheading a new enforcement system after the Legislature passed a bill last year transferring authority from the Department of Labor and Industry. The commission has added six staff members to investigate violations and is convening a 13-member Damage Prevention Committee, modeled after a similar program in Virginia, to advise the commission on how to respond to violators.

The new law includes stricter reporting requirements when someone hits a line, and it covers 60,000 additional miles of natural gas gathering lines — small pipelines that collect and transport gas from a well — that were previously exempt from the state’s one-call program, said Bill Kiger, president and CEO of Pennsylvania One Call.

In 2015 in Armstrong County, a contractor accidentally struck one of those linesand died when it exploded. He had called 8-1-1, but the line was not marked because it was exempt.

“We’re trying to make sure that everybody is safe,” Kiger said.

Still, the new law doesn’t cover every pipeline. Gathering lines from “stripper” wells, which are old, low-producing oil and gas wells, are exempt, Kiger said. He added that he would like to see companies that operate those lines become voluntary members of the state’s one-call program.

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