A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Don’t dig until you call; strict fines in force now — and will be enforced — if pipelines are damaged

Excavators, including homeowners, could be subject to strict fines if they dig up and damage underground utility facilities.
Legislation enacted by the 2018 General Assembly, which takes effect July 14, is designed to cut down on the number of incidents that occur, especially to natural gas or hazardous liquid pipelines.

The state Public Service Commission said they will investigate dig-ins that damage pipelines and will be able to impose financial penalties if violations are uncovered.  Penalties are up to $1,250 for a first violation, $2,000 for a second violation, and $4,000 for subsequent violations.

Like every other state, Kentucky has a statewide 811 service that, by law, must be called at least two working days prior to beginning excavation. This advance notification is intended 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.

The PSC will investigate incidents of damage to pipelines to determine if a location request to 811 was made in a timely manner, whether the pipeline was located accurately and properly, and whether the excavation was conducted safely.

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.

“Not every incident in which a gas line is hit will result in a violation being issued and a penalty assessed, especially if 811 has been called,” said John Lyons, director of the PSC Division of Inspections, which will investigate incidents. “However, a failure to call 811 will trigger an enforcement action.”

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.

In 2017, there were more than 1,200 incidents in Kentucky in which a gas line was damaged during an excavation or about 23 per week. Many involved a failure to call 811 before beginning excavation.

Once the bill was enacted, the PSC began making organizational changes in order to fulfill its new responsibilities to investigate and enforce the requirement to call 811 prior to beginning an excavation, PSC Executive Director Gwen Pinson said. The agency has also launched an extensive public outreach effort, she said.

“We have been meeting with key stakeholder groups, including natural gas providers and the construction industry, to make sure that everyone understands the changes to the law,” Pinson said. “In an order issued June 4, the PSC also required natural gas distribution companies to communicate with their customers about these changes in the first bills issued after July 2.”

For more information, go to the website.

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