The NCSL Blog


By Kevin Frazzini

Nearly four times a day.

Worker marks pipeline underground locationThat’s how frequently underground natural gas pipelines were damaged by digging or excavating in Colorado in 2015, The Denver Post reported last year. That might sound like a lot, but in Pennsylvania the rate is more than twice as high.

“In Pennsylvania, it is estimated there are more than 6,000 hits each year, approximately half involving natural gas lines,” says Pennsylvania Senator Lisa Baker (R).

The consequences of these strikes are sometimes deadly. A line severed by excavation caused an explosion that killed two people and injured one in Firestone, Colo., last year.

But the news isn’t all bad, as NCSL’s Daniel Shea reports in this month’s State Legislatures magazine. In fact, through efforts made over the past two decades by states and the federal government, the number of major pipeline accidents dropped to fewer than 86,000 in 2016 from 120,000 in 2005, he writes. That, despite natural gas consumption growing by nearly 20 percent since 2005.

Much of the work on the states’ part has come in the form of one-call laws. Every state has one and, generally, they require homeowners and contractors—known collectively as “excavators”—to call a local 811 center to request that pipeline or other operators mark the location of underground infrastructure at a project site.

Now, at least 11 states, including Pennsylvania, have gone back to the books to revise their one-call laws. Pennsylvania’s update, for example, consolidates enforcement, covers more pipelines in rural areas and reasonably apportions the costs of operating the system, Baker says.

North Carolina’s revision included a requirement that pipeline operators become members of the state’s one-call center and the creation of an incident review board, which has ensured that violations are investigated and penalties are assessed. 

Read Shea’s story to find out how other states are working to protect residents from an underground danger that’s out of sight and, too often, out of mind.

Kevin Frazzini is the assistant editor of State Legislatures magazine.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.