An Ounce of Prevention

By Debbie Hersman

Over the last 10 years the NTSB has launched go teams to investigate 10 pipeline and storage tank accidents. Our most recent investigation was of the September 2010 rupture in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. In that accident we cited Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s lax approach to pipeline safety and the inadequate oversight of two government agencies in the probable cause of the most devastating pipeline accident in a decade.

We are currently completing our investigation of the July 2010 pipeline accident and the resulting oil spill in Marshall, Michigan.

Pipelines are ubiquitous. There are 2.5 million miles of pipeline in our nation. They run throughout the country and throughout our communities to provide energy to our homes and businesses. Because pipelines are usually underground, most people don’t even know they exist, much less where they are located.

Here’s a website where you can find more information about pipelines and on this website you can check out the location of the pipelines in your county.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports that one-third of all pipeline accidents are caused by someone digging and hitting a pipeline by mistake, which can be fatal. One commonsense measure that homeowners can take to help assure pipeline safety is to call before you dig. You or your contractor should call 811 before any home improvement job that involves digging.

That call puts steps in motion that will lead to marking the location of your home’s underground lines, pipelines, and other utilities to be avoided during construction, landscaping, and other excavation projects.

Today, PHSMA unveiled its new national television and radio public service announcement to urge the public to avoid preventable pipeline accidents by calling 811 before they dig.

Clearly, Benjamin Franklin was not talking about pipelines when he said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” but his advice applies in so many cases today, especially pipeline safety. Always remember to call 811 before you dig.

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