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Lax Pipeline Safety Enforcement Could Cost SD Federal Cash for 811 Safety Program

According to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, diggers nicked natural gas pipelines in South Dakota 489 times last year (that’s like one each weekday and two each Saturday and Sunday). But pipeline operators filed only seven complaints, not because they don’t care about people hacking their pipes, but because they don’t think South Dakota’s One Call Board will do anything about it:

The state One Call Board met Tuesday via Zoom. Mary Zanter, pipeline safety program manager with the state Public Utilities Commission, told the board why pipeline operators file so few complaints.

“Currently, they don’t believe there is anything that the board will do regarding their complaints that are filed,” Zanter said [Joshua Haiar, “Federal Agency Threatens Funding Reduction over South Dakota’s Lax Pipeline Safety Enforcement,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.11.07].

Boy, if the natural gas pipeliners think there’s not point in complaining about damage to their pipes, I wonder what we could get by with on oil pipelines, and carbon dioxide pipelines….

But Freedom™ isn’t free. The PHMSA may cut 4% from the money it sends South Dakota to run its 811 pipeline safety program unless we take pipeline safety enforcement more seriously.

Please be advised that if South Dakota fails to re-establish an adequate excavation damage prevention enforcement program, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (SD PUC) may be subject to a four percent reduction in PHMSA’s State Base Grant funding. This grant currently provides funding for up to 80 percent of the qualified costs of the pipeline safety program incurred by the SD PUC. Also, excavators in South Dakota who fail to comply with excavation safety requirements and damage a pipeline may face Federal enforcement action [Zach Barrett, director, PHMSA Office of Pipeline Safety State Programs Division, letter to Codi Gregg, executive director, South Dakota One Call Notification Board, 2023.10.05].

The One Call Board is inclined to simplify its complaint form and stop requiring pipeliners to site specific statutes violated by the folks who damage their pipelines (seriously? if someone crashes a car into my house, do I have to cite SDCL 22-34-1 to get the cops to fine the driver?). However, our hesitant regulators still sound like they don’t get what PHMSA wants:

Board members said they’ll consider adjusting the language in their complaint processes and procedures that encourages excavators and pipeline operators to handle disputes themselves, rather than file a complaint to the board.

“PHMSA does not like that comment,” Gregg told the board. However, she and multiple board members expressed support for the language.

“We’re not out there to put somebody out of business,” Gregg said, adding that 811 “is meant to be a teaching tool.”

“I don’t mind that statement,” said Board Chairman Mark Meier of Watertown, who represents municipalities. “I like companies and contractors to work together to solve things” [Haiar, 2023.11.07].

Come on, OCB. A main point of a pipeline safety program, as PHMSA notes in its letter, is to “assess civil penalties and other appropriate sanctions… at levels sufficient to deter noncompliance….” Telling people to talk things over apparently isn’t deterring noncompliance: as the PHMSA notes, “there has been no discernible improvement in excavation safety” in South Dakota under this lax enforcement regime. If excavators keep whacking gas pipelines with their backhoes, maybe a few of them should be put out of business. Such serious consequences would certainly teach contractors a lesson about the importance of checking before they dig.


  1. grudznick 2023-11-09 20:04

    How much is that 4%? A few dozen bucks? Whoopie. I say, dig away, wherever you want. That is freedom, if you are a digger.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2023-11-10 00:06

    Well…it’s South Dakota. It’s business. It’s best to be slack about these things and keep the bureaucrats at bay. Nothing good happens when the bureaucrats get involved. Accidents happen. Work it out with the company and fill up the holes. Leave the accident site as it was before the accident , or as close to it as possible. Keep your mouth shut. “What accident??” No harm, no foul.

  3. ABC 2023-11-10 03:30

    Northwestern natural gas explosions, the company, house blows up people dead or in hospitals still push un natural gas even as the Nickers are nicking away every day.

    The explosion utility and state regulators are endangering the safety of many .

  4. larry kurtz 2023-11-10 06:30


    Recall that in 2009 Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based NorthWestern Energy was responsible for a gas explosion in Bozeman, Montana that destroyed several businesses and killed one person.

    In 2021 the company’s devastating decrease in the Madison River flow killed native trout because of its negligence at the Hebgen Dam then one of its power lines caused a wildfire that destroyed most of Denton, Montana. Also that year NWE withdrew its application at Montana’s Public Service Commission so without any regulatory approval it began construction of a natural gas fired generating station in Laurel. The company spends millions of dollars every year greasing Republican politicians and poisoning waterways including in Montana where the PRC is comprised of Earth haters so the company’s 28% rate increase sailed right through.

  5. Richard Schriever 2023-11-10 08:17

    On the other hand telecom conduit installers using a directional boring machine ran a fiberoptic conduit squarely through the sewer line exiting my house a couple years ago. During the repair process it was discovered there were 3 such conduits running parallel to and just above (by less to an inch) the entire length of the sewer pipeline in the alley behind my house (middle of the block) to the end of the alley. The city tells me that pipe is my responsibility to repair (I dispute this) should it ever fail. There were no site-specific digging/excavation permits issued for those directional bores for telecom lines by the city – just a general permit to install lines “wherever they need to” to serve customers. If you’ve ever had an in-ground telecom line installed on or around your property, you will notice they do not do 811 before digging. Granted, they are typically only 12-18 inches in the ground. But boy do they holler if anyone touches their stuff. Just sayin’.

  6. All Mammal 2023-11-10 09:25

    Five home explosions in SD this year. One killed a little baby, and his grandparents. The homes were blown to smithereens.

  7. John 2023-11-10 09:33

    What? There’s LAX business regulation in South Dakota?! Well, clutch my pearls . . .

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