PUCN reports excavators attempting improper repairs to damaged gas facilities

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT: Peter Kostes
Public Information Officer
Public Utilities Commission of Nevada
(775) 684-6118

Date: July 27, 2017

PUCN pipeline safety division urges safe excavating procedures

Carson City, Nev. – The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (“PUCN”) pipeline safety division reports it has investigated several recent incidents involving excavators attempting improper repairs to stop the flow of natural gas from damaged facilities.

“In situations where a natural gas pipeline has been damaged and natural gas is escaping, the most fundamental and important actions to take are: To 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,” says PUCN Senior Gas Pipeline Engineer Neil Pascual.

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

Residential and small commercial connections typically are 1-inch polyethylene lines.
Excavators can minimize the ongoing hazard of a broken pipeline by evacuating all persons from the area, rather than attempting to have an unqualified person attempt to stop the gas flow.

Excavators should not attempt to temporarily stop the flow of gas from a damaged pipeline because:

  • The potential for a buildup of static electricity on the plastic pipeline or a person’s fingers can cause ignition. If an excavator attempts to touch the damaged pipeline, that could result in a spark that ignites the escaping gas and cause a fireball in the immediate area.
  • If the excavator is in a deep enough hole or trench where the gas is escaping, the gas could displace most of the oxygen in the trench, resulting in the person potentially inhaling a large quantity of pure natural gas and losing consciousness.

Any entity failing to adhere to the laws outlined in NRS Chapter 455 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 has issued approximately 20 civil penalties to excavators and operators in the past 12 months for violations associated with NRS Chapter 455. Additionally, the excavator 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 commercial and residential excavators that every digging project, no matter how large or small, warrants a call 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 www.call811.com,
www.usanorth811.org or www.puc.nv.gov.

In an effort to control a damaged and blowing gas pipeline, the PUCN reports one excavator entered a trench, folded the 1-inch pipeline back onto itself and secured the folded pipeline with zip ties. Residential and small commercial connections typically are 1-inch polyethylene lines.