FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Since the Kentucky Public Service Commission took over responsibility for enforcing the state’s Call Before You Dig program last July, there have been more than 700 reports of damage to natural gas lines in Kentucky.
Last year’s changes made by the General Assembly to the underground facility protection statute require operators of natural gas lines to file reports with the PSC on all incidents of excavation damage. The PSC then evaluates the reports, conducts any needed additional investigation, and assesses financial penalties if violations are uncovered.
Of the 701 reports filed with the PSC during the eight-month period ending in March, 264 have been reviewed and closed, with 77 requiring no further action and penalties imposed in 187 cases.
According to the PSC, about 48 percent of the violations thus far involve professional excavators who either failed to call 811 to have gas lines located or didn’t follow the statutory requirements for excavation near gas lines; 45 percent involve natural gas operators who did not locate lines accurately or properly; the remaining 7 percent involve people doing excavation on their own property and either not calling 811 or not following proper excavation practices.
“Excavation damage to natural gas lines poses a significant threat to public safety,” said PSC Chairman Michael Schmitt. “The PSC is making a concerted effort to reduce the unacceptably high number of dig-in incidents in Kentucky.
“What those numbers tell us is that there is still a great deal of public education that needs to be done in order to bring excavation damage down to a minimal level,” he said.
Schmitt notes April is National Safe Digging Month and the start of the busiest time of year for excavation work, “so it is appropriate to refocus attention on the need to call 811 to have underground utilities located before beginning to dig,” he said.
The changes to the law were made to bring Kentucky into line with federal pipeline safety standards, which the PSC enforces under an agreement with the US Department of Transportation.
Kentucky, like every other state, has a statewide 811 service that, by law, must be called at least two working days prior to beginning excavation. This is to allow ample time for utility lines to be located and marked so that excavation can proceed safely. Natural gas providers and hazardous liquid pipeline operators are required to provide the location of their lines to the 811 center.
Excavators, including homeowners, could be penalized for not calling 811, ignoring location markers or using improper excavation methods. Operators could be penalized for not responding to requests to locate lines or for improperly or inaccurately locating or marking underground facilities.
Penalties are up to $1,250 for a first violation, $2,000 for a second violation, and $4,000 for subsequent violations.
Since the law was changed, the PSC has been engaged in outreach programs to cut down on the number of incidents, according to Executive Director Gwen Pinson.
“In the last year, members of the PSC staff have made presentations at 36 meetings with various stakeholder groups, interacting face-to-face with more than 1,600 people,” she said. “We have focused on explaining both the requirements in the law and the changes that have made the PSC the agency responsible for enforcing it with respect to natural gas lines.”
About 240 entities operate natural gas or hazardous liquid pipelines in Kentucky. They include local gas distribution companies fully regulated by the PSC and municipal natural gas providers and other entities, such as housing authorities, that are regulated by the PSC for safety only.