Protecting Pipelines

The pipeline industry uses a wide range of tools and technologies to maintain safe operations. Operators visually inspect aboveground pipes and related equipment for damage. Pipeline personnel walk, drive and fly over pipeline right-of-ways inspecting them for erosion damage, unauthorized activities that might endanger the pipeline or unusual changes in vegetation that might indicate a leak.

Pipeline control center personnel monitor pipeline operation 24 hours a day, every day. Operators also use in-line inspection tools known as “smart pigs”, hydrostatic testing, electromagnetic testing and other techniques to find defects and check the integrity of their systems.

Pipeline operators also rely on their partnerships with local government and emergency officials to protect pipelines against damage or attack.

Here’s how you can help protect the pipelines in your community:

Know where pipelines in your community are located, what they transport and how to contact the operator if there is an emergency

Visit the National Pipeline Mapping System to view maps of transmission pipelines in your community and emergency contact information for operators.  Contact local gathering and distribution operators directly regarding the location of their lines and emergency response numbers.  You can also use  the permanent pipeline markers to identify the general location of transmission and gathering lines and  obtain emergency contact numbers for operators.

Report pipeline damage or dangerous activity near the pipeline to the pipeline operator

Call the pipeline operator if you see unauthorized excavation or other activities that could endanger a pipeline or aboveground pipeline facility.  Call the operator if you notice that the pipeline is exposed due to erosion or excavation near the line.  The operator’s emergency contact number will be listed on a pipeline marker near the line.

Follow best practices for safe excavation near pipelines and the state One-Call law

Excavation activity is the most common cause of pipeline damage.  Always call 811 or contact your local One-Call center to have pipelines located and marked before starting your project.  Refer to the “Know What’s Below” section on this page for more information about the One-Call process.

Click on the link below for more information about safe excavation near pipelines:

Excavation Best Practices & Training Resources

Excavating Near Pipelines Toolbox Talk

Damage to pipelines from excavation activity is the most common cause of pipeline emergencies.  Even if you are exempt from your state’s One-Call law, it is a safety best practice to always contact your local One-Call center, or call 811, to have pipelines and other underground utility lines marked prior to starting an excavation project.  This applies not only to municipal work crews, but also contractors hired to assist with excavation related to highway maintenance, sewage or other government-manage projects.

In most states, One-Call is a free service.  When you call 811, a local One-Call representative will coordinate with pipeline operators in your area to mark the location of their lines with yellow flags, stakes or temporary paint.   View a chart that explains marker flag colors and the lines that they represent.

You are responsible for providing access to the area where you will be digging.   Make sure that gates are unlocked or that someone is available to provide access for lining locating personnel.  Once lines are located, respect the marks and dig with care.  Contact One-Call  or the pipeline operator if you have questions about the marks or appropriate digging procedures and equipment.

Pipelines that are owned and maintained by the resident or building owner rather than a pipeline operator are typically not located through the One-Call process.  These “customer-owned” lines often include pipelines and piping that run from the meter or other connection points to a customer’s gas appliances or manufacturing equipment.  Customer-owned lines are rarely maintained or located by the pipeline company.  If you are planning to excavate near customer-owned lines, contact a local professional who is qualified to verify the location of these lines before digging.

Refer to “Locating Pipelines Before Digging” and “Tips for Safe Digging Near Pipelines” for additional information.

Tips for Safe Digging Near Pipelines

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, excavation and construction are the largest single cause of serious pipeline accidents.

Use the tips below to help keep pipelines safe and protect your employees, equipment and reputation.

Know the Details of Your State’s One-Call Law

One-Call laws vary between states, but all outline requirements that excavators must follow to help keep pipelines and other underground utilities safe.  One-Call laws specify requirements for contacting 811 or your local One-Call center to have lines located and marked prior to digging.  They also include information regarding what to do if you damage a pipeline while digging.

Recent changes to state One-Call laws
Summary of all state One-Call laws

Call 811 To Have Lines Marked Before Excavating

Always call 811 or your local One-Call center to have pipelines and other underground utility lines located and marked prior to starting your project.  In most states, One-Call is free and required by law.  When you notify One-Call, it is important that you provide accurate information regarding where you will be digging and that you wait the required time so that all lines can be located and marked.  Verify that gates are unlocked or that someone is at the location so that operators have access to the excavation site.  If you decide to dig in other locations or outside of the area originally identified, submit a new request and wait the required time.

For more information on 811, visit

Use Appropriate Equipment & Excavation Procedures

Notice the color-coded flags, stakes or paint marking and use appropriate techniques when digging near a pipeline.  Appropriate digging methods may include:  hand digging, soft digging, vacuum excavation methods and pneumatic hand tools. Refer to your state One-Call law and Common Ground Alliance’s Excavation Safety Best Practices for more information about selecting appropriate equipment and techniques for digging near pipelines.

A pipeline representative may elect to be at the job site to supervise excavation activity depending on the specifics of your state’s One-Call law, the proximity of the excavation activity from the pipeline and the specific characteristics of the pipeline, including size, product and pressure.  Notify operators if work crews will be crossing the pipeline right-of-way with motorized equipment or vehicles.

Immediately Report Scrapes, Dents or Pipeline Damage

Contact the pipeline operator immediately if you hit, dent, scrape or damage a pipeline.  Even small scrapes, dents or nicks in the protective coating need to be assessed to prevent future problems.

Watch, Listen & Smell for Signs of a Leak

Know the signs of a leak and what to do.  If you see, hear or smell signs of a pipeline leak immediately leave the area in an upwind direction.  Warn others to stay away and contact 911 from a safe distance.  Do not operate machinery or electrical equipment, including cell phones, near a potential pipeline leak.

Review “Recognizing and Responding to Pipeline Damage” to learn more about how to detect and respond to a potential pipeline leak.

Pre-Excavation Checklist

Prevent pipeline damage by using a pre-excavation checklist before every project.  Each project will vary depending on the location, size and emergency procedures.  Click here for a downloadable and printable PDF version of the pre-excavation checklist.

Emergency Excavations

Many types of emergency situations can affect buried pipelines. These include train derailments, floods, earthquakes, wildland fires, structure collapses, and other similar events where earth has been disturbed or will be moved as part of the response efforts. In these situations, pipeline companies should be notified as soon as possible so they can monitor and verify the integrity of nearby pipelines. The one call system (811) should be used to notify operators when there is a need for emergency excavation, such as constructing fire lines. Click here for the Fire Line Safety Bulletin.

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