In observance of National Safety Month, we examine how the natural gas industry keeps communities safe. Through education, prevention and innovation, natural gas companies ensure the safety of transmission lines and storage facilities.
The industry’s robust safety culture delivers peace of mind to the 60 million residential, commercial and industrial customers who receive natural gas to operate their homes and businesses. Through a network of 1.4 million miles of underground pipelines, natural gas generates approximately a quarter of all energy in the United States. The underground transport of natural gas is considered one of the safest delivery methods for all fuel types according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The industry has often taken the lead in safety, such as championing the Protecting Our Infrastructure and Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016, which put into place additional safety measures for storing and transporting natural gas. Organizations such as the American Gas Association work with regulators for the safety of the industry and community partners. These groups also offer collaboration opportunities through peer review and research.
From initial fabrication to welding and testing of pipelines to monitoring and inspecting lines in use, the natural gas industry demonstrates its commitment to responsible service and safety through pipeline integrity programs. Monitoring takes many forms, from regularly spaced leak detectors to “smart pig” sensors pushed through the pipeline. As part of safety efforts, the industry works to maintain or repair the oldest – and highest risk – infrastructure, installing more than 30,000 miles of safe pipelines every year.
The industry adopts continuous risk reduction practices, such as gas line markers, that later become enshrined in regulation. Industry leaders work together through professional associations to share best practices to improve safety across the entire industry, creating templates such as the Northeast Gas Association’s Be Nosey community educational program.
Gas industry leaders have collaborated with other utilities to prevent underground infrastructure damage through the Common Ground Alliance. Their free 811 “call before you dig” hotline intended for professional excavators and homeowners, is aimed to reduce excavation damage. The direct and indirect costs of damages is estimated at $30 billion annually in the U.S. and 60 percent of pipeline incidents are caused by excavation damage. Educational programs like National Safe Digging Month in April help raise awareness, and the initiative has been reflected in national and state laws.
Partnering with the community in prevention efforts includes training, coordination and communications with first responders on handling gas-related incidents. Gas companies provide extensive training and regular drills when partnering with first responders to increase awareness about operations, emergency response and damage prevention. Companies regularly examine and update safety plans and share those plans with local and state governments to familiarize them with the latest procedures, logistics and communications methods.
However, there is one place in the community that is out of reach for gas companies– the homes of their customers. Just as gas transmission lines are degraded by age and corrosion, so are service lines and in-home plumbing, but homeowners are unlikely to invest the same time or effort into monitoring and maintaining private side gas lines. Aging home infrastructure may pose safety and efficiency issues for utility customers. Customers who are aware of issues may be unable to afford to repair them. HomeServe plans cover gas and electrical service lines, water heaters, in-home electrical and plumbing systems and HVAC systems and provide service line inspections. To learn more about how our programs protect utility customers, contact us.