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PUCN pipeline safety division urges caution when driving stakes into the ground

Carson City, Nev. – The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) pipeline safety division reports it has investigated several incidents this past year involving contractors who caused damage to natural gas pipelines because they did not call 811 to have the pipelines located prior to driving stakes into the ground.

Appropriate safety practices require that contractors installing landscaping, including concrete sidewalk-forming stakes, call 811 at least two days before performing work so natural gas pipelines can be located and marked to avoid damage. Not calling 811 and blindly driving in stakes places workers and the general public at risk.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically 49 CFR 192.361(a), requires natural gas service pipelines to be buried to a depth of at least 12 inches on private property, which includes residential and commercial properties. Although gas utilities often bury natural gas pipelines deeper, safety regulations only require 12 inches. Additionally, property owners often change the final grade of property after natural gas pipelines are installed, thereby changing the depth of the pipelines from the original installation.

When natural gas pipelines have been damaged and natural gas is escaping, the following steps are the most important to take, according to PUCN Senior Gas Pipeline Engineer Neil Pascual: “Immediately cease work, evacuate the impacted area to minimize the hazard presented by the damaged pipeline, telephone emergency 911 services from a safe area, and contact the utility operator.”

Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 455.140 and Nevada Administrative Code (NAC) 455.160 require excavators to follow the steps outlined above and not attempt to operate any valve or other device owned by a utility.

Any entity failing to adhere to the laws outlined in NRS 455.140 can be subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day per violation, up to a maximum of $250,000 for a given calendar year. The PUCN issued more than 25 civil penalties to excavators and operators in 2019 for violations associated with NRS Chapter 455 totaling more than $100,000. Additionally, excavators could face utility repair and damage costs that may range from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars if the damage were to result in a significant incident.

811 – Call Before You Dig

The PUCN reminds businesses and residents that before starting any digging project, no matter how large or small, a call should be placed to the statewide 811 hotline (“Call Before You Dig” program). Professional locators are dispatched, usually within two working days, to the requested dig site to mark the approximate locations of underground lines. Utility lines need to be properly marked because even when digging only a few inches, the risk of striking an underground utility line still exists.

For more information about safe digging procedures, visit call811.com, usanorth811.org or puc.nv.gov.