Loose ‘Call Before You Dig’ Regulations Causing More Pipeline Accidents

Texas has by far the most miles of underground natural gas pipelines of any state. Texas also has the greatest number of accidents that occur when these and other underground pipes are damaged or disrupted. Companies that dig, construct, and work around these pipelines have a duty to safely work around these pipelines, the locations of which can be determined by a simple phone call. Nonetheless, these calls are not being made in every instance and are consequently costing the lives of unsuspecting workers and millions of dollars in property damage each year due to blowouts, explosions, and toxic gas leaks.

Lone Star 811 is the official call center in Texas that companies and individuals can call before any excavation project begins to determine the location of nearby underground pipelines. Literally, dial “8-1-1” before doing any digging in Texas. Once a call is made, pipeline companies will mark off the location of their lines so that workers and machinery can safely work around these areas without causing damage to property or person.

Calling Lone Star 811 before any excavation project begins, however, is not mandatory in Texas. In fact, federal regulators have determined that Texas provides more exemptions than any other state regarding who must notify a pipeline or utility company before digging. So much so, that last year the U.S. Department of Transportation disqualified Texas from receiving federal funds aimed at reducing the number of these accidents. After surveying federal data, pipeline industry group, Common Ground Alliance, reported that the more of these exemptions a state granted, the more damaged pipelines a state suffered. There is a direct correlation. Among those who Texas exempts from the call rule include railroad maintenance crews, oil and gas drillers, farmers, and county and state road crews.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, the regulatory body that oversees pipeline compliance, reports that it has issued over 3,000 violation citations over the past 5 years to state and local government bodies alone for beginning excavation projects without first calling to find out the locations of underground pipelines. This is the consequence of having exemptions from making the 811 call. Many are calling for Texas to change its law and make the 811 call mandatory and remove the exemptions.

Atmos Pipeline executive, Charles Yarbrough, advocates to eliminate these exemptions “because it’s really a safety issue. It’s a safety issue for people doing the excavation, their equipment, and the public in general who can potentially be harmed by not making the call.” With so many miles of hidden pipelines, the existence of which can be discovered with a simple phone call, it seems like Russian roulette to dig or excavate in Texas without calling 811 first.

If you or someone you know have been injured or killed as a result of a pipeline accident, contact the attorneys at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling (713) 222-7211 or 713-222-7211.