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….
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.