Knowing ownership, location of LPG lines is no laughing matter

March 10, 2011 By    

The improvisational comedy television show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” always makes me smile. It reminds me of a salesman making facts up as he goes.

In a comedy setting, such skits can be humorous, but there is nothing funny about failure to understand location and ownership of propane lines.

Gas line location and ownership has been a common theme in allegations of liability in accidents involving leaking lines or lines that have been damaged due to failure to determine exact location while digging.

In June 2006, a subcontractor for the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. contacted Diggers Hotline for buried utility lines before doing electrical work on resort property in Ellison Bay, Wis. Two phone lines were identified, but the buried propane lines were not.

On July 7, the propane lines were damaged while the contractor dug trenches for electrical lines. Three days later, a series of blasts destroyed a convenience store and damaged several other buildings. Two people died and several were injured.

A $21 million settlement from a civil lawsuit was awarded to the family of a Michigan couple killed in the explosion. Needless to say, it was an expensive legal process for all suppliers and stakeholders.

After the Ellison Bay explosions, a Wisconsin bill that would make all underground propane lines appear on Digger’s Hotline maps set new requirements for propane suppliers. They involve licensing and insurance requirements to ensure that suppliers operate a safety-conscious business with a well-trained staff and possess the financial backing necessary for commitment to their industry and customers.

While this incident involved a jurisdictional system, being able to locate both jurisdictional and private propane lines is a vital safety concern. Check with your local One Call System for requirements in your area.

The ability to locate polyethylene propane lines is an important factor in understanding line location. This is generally accomplished with the utilization of a tracer wire. Here is how the 2011 edition of the National Fire Protection Association Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code addresses the matter:

6.9.4.6 (A)(B) An electrically continuous corrosion-resistant tracer wire (minimum AWG14) or tape shall be buried with a polyamide or polyethylene pipe to facilitate locating the pipe.
(a) One end of the tracer wire shall be brought above ground at the building wall or riser.
(b) The tracer wire or tape will not be in direct contact with the polyamide or polyethylene pipe.

While your state may not have adopted this edition, the ability to install such tracer wire or tape while avoiding direct contact with polyethylene pipe would seem like a good idea.

Innovative Trench Solutions Inc. (www.tracer-spacer.com) of Rochester, N.Y., has developed several products to help the propane industry achieve safer and more uniform underground installations while maintaining compliance with NFPA 58.

The TracerSpacer is a simple, low-cost, snap-on device designed to provide separation between plastic pipe and its tracer wire. According to the company, its use virtually eliminates the possibility that tracer wire can contact the pipe while ensuring a reliable location of the pipe in the future.

The TracerSpacer for common trench holds the tracer wire in close proximity to the plastic pipe while ensuring that the other utilities in a common trench have at least a 12-inch separation and do not become displaced during backfill.

When it comes to underground line identification and protection from electrical contact, I recommend that you discuss the issues and design solutions to avoid problems related to underground piping.

Not only will you know whose line it is, but you will be able to say, “I know where it is.”

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