Knowledge of Pipelines in Your Community Enhances Safety

Posted on August 22, 2011. Filed under: Natural Gas Safety | Tags: , , , , , , |

Throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula we have high-pressure natural gas pipelines that serve thousands of homes and business. Consumers Energy has a proactive effort to help maintain the integrity of these pipelines. Your awareness of these pipelines and any unusual activity around them can help us maintain the safety and security in your community. The tips below provide guidance on how to manage activity around our pipelines, the properties of natural gas and how to determine if there is a leak. They are also available as a brochure.

Locating Pipelines in Your Area

Take some time now to familiarize yourself with the location of pipelines in your community. One of the more visible signs of a pipeline location is a pipeline marker. For your safety, the route of an underground transmission pipeline is identified with above-ground pipeline markers. However, the markers do not indicate the pipeline’s exact location, its depth or the direction it follows. In some instances, markers may not be present in some areas.

PIpeline markers are a visible warning sign.

Pipeline markers are typically located at road, railroad and waterway crossings, and at regular intervals across agricultural areas. They are yellow signs that identify the company, type of pipeline and emergency phone number. Aerial pipeline markers approximately every four miles enable our pipeline aerial patroller to follow the route and detect soil erosion, heavy equipment working or digging in the area, or other situations requiring immediate action. 

National Pipeline Mapping System 

A map of pipeline routes will help give you a better picture of the location of pipelines in your area. The National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) provides contact information and data as well as maps of interstate and intrastate natural gas transmission pipelines. Since 2002, transmission pipeline operators are required to submit mapping information to the NPMS and to update their submissions annually. Consumers Energy submits data on the natural gas transmission pipelines that we own and operate.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, placed additional security concerns on the U.S. pipeline infrastructure. As a result, the Office of Pipeline Safety restricts access to the NPMS to federal, state and local government agencies (including emergency responders). To find out who operates pipelines in your area, contact the NPMS at www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov 

Land Use and Development Near Pipelines 

If your community does not have guidelines for construction and development near natural gas transmission pipeline corridors, consider putting some guidelines in place. These guidelines could include:

  • Requiring the consent of easement holders as a condition of issuing permits for construction or development that may impact the safe operation of pipelines
  • Requiring pipeline operator involvement in road widening or grading, mining, blasting, dredging and other activity that may impact the safe operation of the pipeline
  • Requesting residents, excavators and land developers to contact the pipeline operator regarding questions about the pipeline or pipeline corridor  

Guidelines such as these can help us in our efforts to monitor the pipeline system, perform routine maintenance and make required federal/state inspections. Pipeline operator involvement may be required before road construction projects begin in order to monitor the system, perform maintenance and make required federal/state inspections. For public safety, the following general guidelines should be observed on all pipeline corridors:

  • No structures, such as buildings, sheds and swimming pools should be located in the corridor
  • No underground facilities, such as drain tiles, culverts, electric cables, septic systems, water wells, water or sewer lines, or similar facilities should be constructed in the corridor
  • No soil is to be added or removed over the pipeline
  • No roads should be constructed over or across the pipeline
  • No trees or shrubs should be planted in the corridor
  • No blasting should be conducted in the corridor

If agricultural or farming activities in your community include deep plowing, fence post installation, trenching, leveling, subsoiling, installing drain tile or other excavation work, it’s vital to call 811 three working days before starting any digging.  A representative will mark underground lines at no cost. For more information about services for our farm customers, please visit  www.consumersenergy.com/farm . 

Land owned by Consumers Energy is private property and not open for public use without permission. The company may allow adjoining landowners and others to use its property. A lease, license, permit or easement from Consumers Energy is required before such a use is allowed.

How to Avoid Damaging a Pipeline 

Call 811 to locate pipelines and other underground utilities before you dig.

A major cause of pipeline damage is someone accidentally striking an underground pipeline. This is a serious safety threat and can lead to personal harm, physical damages and financial losses. Professional excavators and homeowners planning to dig should always call 811 at least three working days before starting any digging project.

One easy call gets free staking of underground utility lines and helps reduce the chance of injury and expense. To know what’s below, always call 811 toll-free before you dig. MISS DIG will contact the utility companies to have underground lines marked with yellow stakes, flags or paint. This service is free. It’s important to call MISS DIG even for routine jobs, such as planting shrubs/trees, replacing a mailbox post or installing a fence or a deck. 

Please note that MISS DIG will mark lines that utilities own (the main line to the meter). The customer/property owner is responsible for maintenance and operation of all gas or electric lines that flow from the meter to all appliances. This includes gas and electric lines to your yard lights, grills, pool and spa heaters, garages, workshops or other similar areas. A mechanical contractor would be able to help you mark those lines. Customers who have an outdoor sprinkler system will also need to mark those lines.

Signs of Natural Gas Leaks or Emergencies 

Despite our efforts to prevent dig-ins, many leaks are caused by damage to pipelines. We urge you to treat any sign of a natural gas leak as an emergency that may put your safety at risk. Signs of natural gas leaks or emergencies include:

  • “Rotten egg” smell (not all gas is odorized)
  • Dead or discolored vegetation in an otherwise green area
  • Dirt or dust blowing from a hole in the ground
  • Bubbling in wet or flooded areas
  • Blowing or hissing sound
  • Flames, if a leak has ignited

If you suspect a natural gas leak, follow these steps:

  • Leave the area immediately, and go to a safe location
  • Then call Consumers Energy toll-free at (800) 477-5050, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will respond promptly at no charge.
  • Do not use any electrical device, such as light switches or telephones, or appliances such as garage door openers. They could cause a spark and ignite the gas
  • Do not use an open flame, matches or lighters
  • Do not try to locate the source of the gas leak
  • Do not try to shut off any natural gas valves or gas appliances
  • Do not start vehicles
  • Do not re-enter the building or return to the area until our employee or qualified utility representative says it’s safe to do so
  • Do not put out the flames if natural gas ignites. Burning gas will not explode

Important Facts About Natural Gas Safety 

Here are some important characteristics about natural gas that you should be aware of:

  • Natural gas is colorless, tasteless, odorless and nontoxic. To make it easier to recognize natural gas, a “rotten egg” odor is added before it reaches your home. The natural gas in most of Consumers Energy’s large transmission pipelines does not contain an odorant.
  • Natural gas cannot burn by itself. To burn, natural gas must be mixed with air. It also must have an ignition source such as a pilot light, a lighted match, or an electric arc from a light switch, motor, doorbell or telephone.
  • Burning natural gas will not explode. If natural gas does ignite, let it burn. Do not attempt to put out the flame.
  • Natural gas is not LPG.  Liquefied petroleum gases (LPG), such as propane, are different from natural gas. They are heavier than air and collect in low places. Natural gas is almost 40 percent lighter than air.

While natural gas pipelines are built according to local, state and federal guidelines, regulations and specifications with safety and reliability as top priorities, it is important to note that a natural gas leak may present these hazards:

  • Fire
  • Explosion
  • Asphyxiation (Natural gas displaces oxygen in confined spaces)

These hazards can be caused by:

  • Rupturing, nicking or puncturing a pipeline
  • Uncontrolled escaping gas
  • Under- or overpressure in the gas system
  • Equipment failure
  • Human error
  • Extreme natural events such as floods, tornadoes and earthquakes
  • Heavy ice on outside meters or other gas pipelines
  • Fire or explosion near or directly involving a pipeline facility
  • Collapsed buildings that break or damage gas pipelines
  • Water main breaks that weaken roadways and pavement, damaging gas pipelines
  • Civil disturbances such as riots

 High Consequence Areas 

In accordance with federal pipeline safety regulations, some segments along natural gas transmission lines have been designated as being in a high consequence area (HCA). HCAs include densely populated areas, schools and other high-occupancy buildings, along with parks and campgrounds. Consumers Energy has developed its Integrity Management Program to identify these areas and to perform appropriate inspections.  For more information on this program, visit pipeline integrity .

Communications with emergency officials 

Consumers Energy regularly cooperates with local emergency officials to respond to incidents involving the accidental or unintended release of natural gas. Sometimes utility personnel assist at a fire scene or other situation. In other cases, utility personnel call for public safety assistance because of a gas leak or fire.

In addition to this general brochure for local public officials, Consumers Energy also provides specific information about emergency responses to police, fire and emergency-responder organizations. Consumers Energy contacts police and fire departments annually, either by letter or in person. The annual contacts include an offer of training about natural gas systems and emergency responses. To request training at any time, call (800) 477-5050 .

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