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.