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Gas Leaks Due to Gas Line Hits

Annual State of Safety 2023

Igniting Awareness: Digging into the Severity of Gas Line Strikes

As we go about our day, we don’t usually consider that below our feet lies a sensitive network of systems that support our daily lives: telecommunication cables, electrical wires, watermains, sewer lines, and of course, natural gas lines.

This network makes construction work a lot more complicated. No matter what type of project you undertake — whether it’s on a construction site or in your backyard — any time you are digging more than a few inches below the surface, you need to check for buried utilities and gas lines. If you’re excavating, you should know how to avoid gas lines once they’re exposed and what to do in the event one gets damaged.

A gas line strike can result in serious consequences, including a loss of natural gas service to your home or neighborhood, fire, explosions, the destruction of property, serious injury, and even death.

For this reason, gas line strikes were identified as one of the Top 5 Safety Risks of regulated equipment in our risk register.

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Breaking Ground with Gas Line Safety

Thanks to concerted effort by natural gas and safety organizations, many qualified workers are aware of the dangers of hitting a gas line, and preemptively contact BC 1 Call to locate buried utility lines.

However, not everyone who breaks ground will contact BC 1 Call before they start their project, especially if they are undertaking a small job on their own property. Others will call and not be able to find the line, become impatient, and begin digging anyway. Some may be aware of the line but accidentally damage it during excavation and are then unsure of what steps to take next in order to stay safe.

Despite making progress in raising awareness around buried gas lines, it ranks highly on our list of top risks due to gaps in safety precautions, as well as the severity of the incidents when lines are badly damaged.

"There were 22 gas line hit notifications in 2023."

Comox and Fernie Explosions: A Wake-Up Call

In November 2021, workers were digging near exposed gas lines at the Canadian Forces Base in Comox, BC when an exposed underground gas line was inadvertently struck by an excavator. This resulted in a significant explosion that demolished the barracks and injured 28 individuals.

Only a few months later, a similar incident occurred in Fernie, BC. While installing a water line using an excavator, an exposed gas line was struck. The leaked gas from the punctured line migrated underground and into a home and contacted an ignition source, which resulted in a large explosion and fire. Two occupants were in the home during the explosion, but thankfully they were unharmed.

When reviewing these incidents, our investigations discovered that while BC 1 Call was contacted in both cases, there were no preliminary assessments completed to evaluate risks of excavating near a gas line nor a plan to manage an accidental gas release. In addition to the risk of striking a live gas line, risks such as the likelihood for gas to accumulate in an enclosed area and contacting an ignition source should be evaluated prior to excavation.

"The most common known root cause of damages to underground facilities was excavation (37%)" - CCGA

Building the Groundwork for Gas Line Safety

The similarities between these incidents and hundreds of other gas line hits in BC reveal the need for a change in behaviour when working around gas lines. To raise awareness on the severity of these incidents, we released two incident reports in 2022 with our investigation findings and safety guidance along with a news release to garner widespread distribution. We also developed a new public safety campaign centered on gas line safety to help further highlight the risks of digging near gas lines. The campaign was shared extensively throughout our network on our social channels, website, and email to over 20,000 gas workers and contractors.

We also continue to maintain collaborative partnerships with BC 1 Call and the Common Ground Alliance and present findings from our incidents at industry events such as the BC Construction Alliance Conference in Vancouver. The campaign and our partnerships have laid the groundwork to continue educating the public about the risks involved with working around gas lines and fostering a culture of safety awareness among homeowners, workers, and industry professionals alike.

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