AUSTIN —The three Texas Railroad Commissioners today adopted rules to help protect the state’s 200,000 miles of intrastate pipelines—more intrastate pipelines than any other state in the nation.

The number one cause of pipeline accidents in the state and nation is damage by third-parties, such as homeowners, contractors, city or state employees or anyone digging near pipelines.

The new rules, effective Sept. 1, address best management practices for underground pipeline operators and excavators, and, for the first time, provide penalties for rule violations.

The Railroad Commission’s Safety Division regulates intrastate natural gas, hazardous liquid and crude oil pipelines in Texas.

Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones said, “In 2004, our agency received 149 reports of third-party pipeline damage. In 2005, that number jumped to 275 reports and in 2006 it jumped even higher to 301 reports, or an average of six incidents each week. Each year these pipeline accidents have increased. The rules adopted today are designed to stop this trend.”

Commissioner Michael L. Williams said, “These rules should help significantly reduce the number of pipeline incidents in our state caused by excavators or operators who incorrectly mark lines. To monitor the rules’ impact, the Commission will continue its on-going effort of gathering data from pipeline operators and contractors about these incidents.”

Commissioner Victor G. Carrillo said, “We are taking a very positive step that for the first time, adds enforcement teeth to the state’s damage prevention efforts. Our action will help achieve a key agency goal in enhancing public safety regarding underground pipelines in Texas.”

The Commission held three public meetings in 2006 to gather input on proposed rules from pipeline operators and contractors and other groups that dig near lines.

Based on these meetings, the rule incorporates ten best practices from a national pipeline protection safety organization called the Common Ground Alliance.

Highlights of the new rules include:

For the first time, enforcement is provided to allow the Commission to penalize underground pipeline operators as well as excavators for violating the new rules. Monetary penalties could range up to $10,000 per day for each violation. The TRC also may impose non-monetary penalties, such as issuing a warning or requiring mandatory attendance at safety training. Anyone digging deeper than 16 inches near a pipeline is required to call 811—the national One Call number — for a pipeline location. A pipeline operator is required to make a positive response to a person making the call by marking a pipeline in the area to be excavated or by providing an “all clear” or “no conflicts” positive response, indicating that there are no pipelines in the area to be excavated. . Currently, excavators provide a general description of the area where they plan to dig and this will continue under the new rules. As an alternative, the rules also now will allow excavators to mark (white-line) where they plan to dig to enhance response times from pipeline operators and to delineate where the excavation will take place. A minimum tolerance zone (half the diameter of the underground pipeline plus a minimum of 18 inches on either side of the outside edge of the underground pipeline on a horizontal plane) is set. Excavators are required to exercise reasonable care to prevent damage to any underground pipeline in or near an excavation area. Marking procedures are established for both pipeline operators and excavators. Excavators and operators are required to report rule violations and incidents of damage to underground pipelines through a new on-line reporting system—the Texas Damage Reporting Form found on the RRC’s website at www.rrc.state.tx.us/. In addition, an emergency response official, a member of the public or another person aware of damage to an underground pipeline, may submit an incident form on the RRC’s Web site. An excavator and an operator may jointly establish practices applicable to a specific excavation site based on the particular characteristics of each job. For example, an excavator and an operator could designate the contact person for each entity working at an excavation site; agree on the method for coordinating work activities; establish special marking requirements; decide on the life of a locate ticket; and agree on the sequence and schedule of work. A number of terms are defined, such as “damage,” “movement of earth,” and “tolerance zone.” Methods also are established for giving notice of intent to excavate as well for providing a positive response and setting a minimum period of validity for a locate ticket.

All the rules can be viewed under Chapter 18, Underground Pipeline Damage Prevention, at the following link:

www.rrc.state.tx.us/rules/proposed