Cultivating farm safety near pipelines

Calling 811 in the U.S. saves downtime, repair costs and lives

Even out in the wide-open spaces, it’s critical to know the lay of the land.

Despite being aware of the risks, a study conducted by Enbridge in 2014 shows nearly 71 per cent of farmers and ranchers in the United States have never called 811 to have pipelines marked before starting a digging project, putting themselves and their operation at risk.

Results of our survey suggest farmers are aware of the risks associated with striking buried lines – specifically, the potential to ignite oil or natural gas released from pipelines, and put operations and lives at risk.

Still, only 29 per cent of polled farmers have ever used the service – and of those, less than half always use it.

“I was raised on a farm, and I know that farmers know their land well. However, I also know farmers want to make sure they’re doing everything they can to protect their family and employees,” says Kesley Tweed, Enbridge’s U.S. Partnerships and Public Awareness Manager.

“This survey showed us there are definitely some misconceptions about pipelines and the 811 service that we hope to clear up, so farmers and others can work safely around pipelines.”

Our survey suggests that a lack of clarity about the 811 service, which is offered nationwide in the U.S., may discourage farmers from making the call. While two-thirds of farmers were aware of the 811 service, which marks the location of pipelines and buried utilities on property, more than half of that group didn’t know the call is free and provides pipeline markings that remain valid for up to three weeks.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds of farmers polled (64 per cent) were unaware that underground pipelines can be as little as 18 inches (or less) below the surface. The depth of pipelines can vary due to erosion, digging projects, and other factors.

“I found this poll eye-opening,” says Kerry Puckett, Enbridge’s Vice President of Natural Gas Engineering and Operations. “We hope that by clearing up misperceptions, farmers along our pipelines will understand the importance and take a few minutes to call 811, have lines marked, and play it safe — for the safety of the community and the well-being of the operation.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), more than 2.6 million miles of pipelines deliver energy across the U.S. In 2013, digging accidents contributed to the loss of nearly 25,000 barrels of oil, while also damaging farm property.

In 2013, Enbridge data identified four pipeline strikes resulting from agriculture-related digging in the U.S., and seven close encounters.

“Those numbers may seem low to some people,” says Tweed. “But at Enbridge, we feel that one accident is too many, particularly when an accident is easy to prevent with a call to 811.”

Calling 811 is free, and can be done from anywhere in the U.S. a few days prior to digging, with some states now offering an online “one-call” service via the website. Most state laws require operators to mark the lines within two to three business days.

In Canada, the Click Before You Dig website, launched in 2013, represents the country’s first national “one-window” approach for requesting the locations of buried utilities prior to ground disturbance.