Category Archives: safety

Rebecca Massello Marrying Safety and Security – Natural Gas Utilities Build a Better Tomorrow

Promoting a culture of safety has long been the mantra for natural gas utilities. It is core to everything we do. The end goal is simple: protect the general public and our employees, while ensuring the continued safe and reliable delivery of natural gas to our customers. Carrying out this shared goal is the responsibility of every natural gas utility. Recognizing the importance of this role, the American Gas Association adopted the AGA’s Commitment to Enhancing Safety, which outlines voluntary actions being taken by AGA or individual operators.

Post September 11, we saw a new set of challenges on the home front and for critical infrastructure – security. Safe and reliable delivery of natural gas is critical to the health, safety, and economic well-being of our Nation, and natural gas utilities take this charge seriously. Natural gas utilities have historically taken measures to physically protect their assets from sabotage or unintentional harm. These physical security measures are often referred to as “guns, gates, and guards” and are intended to secure the perimeter and keep bad “things” out. As technology has continued to evolve, these tactics have become more advanced, employing technologies like microwave sensors, motion detectors, access controls, and alarms, all intended to give the operators more information and tools to protect their critical assets.

Beyond physical security, there is another rapidly evolving security threat – cyber adversaries. These adversaries can come in many forms, from nation states, to home grown extremists, to activists, to cyber criminals. Whoever the adversary, we face an uphill battle as we leverage an increasing amount of remote and automated technologies that help us to do our jobs more efficiently and reliably. Demonstrating this challenge, the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) has reported that the energy sector accounted for 20 percent of total reported incidents in 2016.[1] The increased deployment of automated technologies must also come with the appropriate cybersecurity controls to help ensure that cyber adversaries are not successful in their ultimate goal. To that aim, we apply a portfolio of tools, policies, procedures and practices intended to make it harder for the adversaries to access critical cyber networks and cause harm.

Today, we demonstrate that we are not just a culture of safety. We are a culture of safety AND security. Last year, the AGA Board of Directors approved AGA’s Commitment to Cyber and Physical Security, articulating our collective goal to stand up against the growing and dynamic security threats that exist. This commitment outlines our voluntary actions to identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover from threats and attacks. While we plan to keep the adversaries out and prevent attacks, we also know that some battles may be lost in this ongoing war, and we also plan how we will quickly recover and continue to reliably deliver critical services to our customers. All these guiding principles are outlined in this commitment statement.

There are approximately 2.5 million miles of pipelines making up the natural gas transmission and distribution infrastructure in the United States.[2] AGA’s members own and operate 2.2 million miles of this infrastructure. The signed letters of commitment to security that AGA has received to date collectively represent 2 million — or 90 percent — of AGA mileage, illustrating our dedication to these voluntary security actions.

As we march forward and carry out the principles outlined in this industry commitment, we continue to ensure that security is integral to everything we do. The security challenge is one that cannot be taken with complacency, and natural gas utilities are up to the challenge as we proactively take steps to help ensure that natural gas delivery continues to be safe, reliable, and secure into the future. For more on our commitment, click here.

[1] https://ics-cert.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/Annual_Reports/Year_in_Review_FY2016_Final_S508C.pdf

[2] Based on PHMSA Annual Report Data, April 2017

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Dave McCurdy Your Safety is Our Top Priority

There is nothing more important to America’s natural gas utilities than the safety of the customers we serve and the communities in which we operate. Our customers are our friends, families and neighbors and we take every incident involving a natural gas pipeline very seriously.

The American Gas Association and our members are proud of the industry’s overall safety performance and the culture of safety that has been cultivated at each local gas utility throughout the country.

While we see news coverage about specific events, incidents on natural gas pipelines resulting in fatalities and injuries are not common. The United States has seen an approximately 40 percent decline in pipeline incidents over the past 10 years. Any injury or loss of life is tragic and the industry works every day to avoid it. These numbers include causes outside the direct control of the utility, such as people driving into gas meters, damage to the pipelines caused by excavation, customers tampering with their gas meters, appliance failures or incidents that take place within a customer’s home. These, along with weather-related events cause a great number of natural gas incidents—something that is not often included in news coverage.

We believe that one incident is too many and we are consistently looking to make improvements that will continue to enhance safety and reliability. After an incident occurs, utilities work to understand what happened and how to avoid something similar happening in the future. The industry is working with stakeholders such as firefighters, schools and building contractors on a variety of initiatives that focus on protecting customers and raising awareness of natural gas safety.

There are certain actions you can take to help mitigate the chances of a natural gas incident occurring:

1. Pay attention in order to help identify potential signs of a natural gas leak. There are several ways to detect a natural gas leak.

  • Smell: Because an odorant called mercaptan is added to natural gas by the utility to help you detect its presence, the best sign of a natural gas leak is if you smell something similar to rotten eggs.
  • Sight: Look for dirt blowing into the air, persistent bubbling in standing water, or discolored or dead vegetation around the pipeline area.
  • Sound: Listen for any unusual hissing sounds.

In the event you think you smell, see or hear any of these signs of natural gas, leave the home, building or vicinity immediately and call your natural gas utility.

Information about how to respond to a potential leak or these warning signs varies throughout the country based on a variety of factors, including climate and soil condition. To learn how transmission pipelines near you or your distribution utility addresses leaks, contact them directly.

2. Know What’s Below: Call 811 Before You Dig. Be sure to call 811 at least three full days before you perform any digging work, even if it is something as simple as planting a tree in your yard. This will allow the local utilities to come and mark the location of any underground lines so that you can avoid damaging them when you dig. Visit www.call811.com.

3. Help make sure that all those who are performing any excavation work in your neighborhood have notified 811. This would include any work done in the public right-of-way, as well as work done by individuals in their yard. If a call to 811 has been made, underground utilities in the vicinity of the excavation site will come to the site prior to the start of excavation and will mark the location of their buried facility through painted lines, flags or other markers. If a call to 811 has not been made prior to excavation, this could possibly result in damage to underground facilities, including natural gas pipelines.

4. Do not tamper with the gas meter. Use a licensed professional to perform periodic inspections of customer-owned fuel lines delivering natural gas to appliances, equipment and structures.

There are over 2.5 million miles of natural gas pipelines that serve more than 177 million Americans. The ongoing decline in pipeline incidents is due to the dedicated efforts of natural gas utilities and regulators to enhance safety programs and raise awareness about the need for active involvement by customers and communities. Natural gas utilities spend $22 billion annually to help enhance the safety of natural gas distribution and transmission systems. AGA’s member companies work together to identify and share best practices to help enhance safety and reliability.

Natural gas utilities and pipelines deliver over a quarter of the energy used every day in America and more homes and businesses use natural gas today than ever before. Those numbers continue to increase. Whether you are a customer or not, know what to look for and if you see something, say something. Working together, we can make our communities safer.

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Lisa O'Leary National Safe Digging Month Begins

NSDM%20her%20#1

Image Courtesy Common Ground Alliance

This April marks the ninth annual National Safe Digging Month (NSDM), an initiative put in place by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) to raise awareness about safe digging practices and the importance of calling 811 to prevent accidents, property damage and outages.

Before you embark on any excavation project big or small, be sure to dial 811 to be connected to your local One Call Center which will gather information and alert your local utility company. Crews will then locate the utility lines near your planned project and make sure they are properly marked so you can be sure to avoid them. Both the call and the service are fast, simple and free.

Construction and digging damage is the leading cause of pipeline incidents across the country, most of which can be prevented if proper protocol is followed. Thanks in large part to the work being done by CGA and AGA-member natural gas utilities to promote “Call 811,” excavation damages for all underground facilities have drastically decreased by approximately 50 percent since 2004.

Throughout this month, AGA will be highlighting the creative ways local natural gas utilities are educating the public about this crucial, and potentially life-saving, program on Twitter, Facebook and the True Blue Natural Gas blog. Let us know what your utility has planned by posting below or emailing Jackie Bavaro at jbavaro@aga.org.

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Lisa O'Leary AGA Members Draw Awareness to Safe Digging on 811 Day

On August 11, the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) once again commemorated National 811 Day to promote safe digging practices and the Call Before You Dig campaign. No matter the type and size of digging project – from installing a mailbox to building a patio or deck, it is always critical  to call 811 several days prior to digging to identify the approximate location of underground utility lines, including natural gas. Excavation damage continues to be the leading cause of natural gas pipeline incidents across the country, though improvements are being made thanks to the education and outreach by CGA, local natural gas utilities and other stakeholders.

Each year on 811 Day, the American Gas Association’s (AGA’s) member companies work to educate their customers and the communities they serve about the importance of calling 811 before digging. The following highlights showcase many of the activities AGA’s members and partners participated in to help raise awareness about calling 811:

Image Credit: PHMSA

Image Credit: PHMSA

Throughout the month of July, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) took over the Navy Yard/Nationals Park Metro station in Washington, D.C. with 811 banners, posters and other signage.

Image Courtesy of CGA

Image Courtesy of CGA

On August 6, DOT and PMSA hosted a pre-baseball game event at the Washington Nationals’ stadium with Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez and this year’s winner of Energy Safe Kids’ annual 811 poster contest. Safe digging procedures and Call 811 were promoted during all five baseball games prior to August 11, most notably on a banner directly behind home plate.

Image Credit: CenterPoint Energy

Image Credit: CenterPoint Energy

CenterPoint Energy in Houston, TX hosted a downtown block party complete with food and prizes, while the utility’s Minnesota branch teamed up with marking companies for the annual 811 5k Run/Walk followed by a kids fun run, awards ceremony, prizes and safety fair. All proceeds from the 5k benefitted Operation Warm, an organization that provides warm winter coats to children in need.

Image Credit: CGA

Image Credit: AGA

Pacific Gas & Electric, along with CGA and other stakeholders, had the honor of ringing the New York Stock Exchange closing bell in front of a large Call 811 banner on 8/11. Click here to watch the archived video from the event.

columbia gas 811 cake

Image Credit: Columbia Gas of PA

Things got a little wild at the Washington Wild Things baseball game on 8/11 thanks to Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania. Tickets were just $8.11 and Digger Dog threw out the first pitch.  In addition to the game, Columbia Gas distributed special 811-themed cakes  to local radio stations to help drive awareness during the morning commute and online.

Image Credit: Victor Espinoza/Twitter

Image Credit: Victor Espinoza/Twitter

Call 811-sponsored jockey and Triple Crown winner Victor Espinoza once again took to his Twitter page to remind customers to call 811 before beginning any digging projects, big or small.

In addition to 811 Day, the month of April is National Safe Digging Month (NSDM). As part of their ongoing commitment to safety, AGA member companies air PSAs and TV spots, host events and contests, and carry out social media campaigns to promote safe digging. If you are a natural gas utility, let us know about future Call 811 activities in the comments section below. We’d love to hear what your utility has in the works and to share your activities on AGA’s social media pages and blog. You can also email loleary@aga.org.

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