The right time to be a nosy neighbor

Recent news of natural gas explosions in parts of the United States has left many residents wondering if they are at risk. After such incidents, our gas technicians and inspectors in the field receive many more questions than usual. Our company prioritizes safety and we work hard to protect the communities we serve, as well as our systems, so we’re able to provide many reassurances.

Even so, many of our customers want to know what they can do to help make things safer. Since the majority of threats to our gas system come from excavators digging near our facilities — potentially striking a natural gas line and causing anything from a small leak to an explosion — there is something easy that almost anyone can do. Put on your nosy neighbor hat and call us any time you notice someone digging without the presence of a markout. Last year, PSE&G responded to more than 800 incidents related to damage caused by an excavator. Most of these incidents are avoidable and only require a phone call for a free markout.

We participate in the New Jersey One Call campaign that educates excavators on the requirement to call 811 three full business days before they do any digging. This allows PSE&G and other underground utility operators to respond and mark their underground facilities. The markout identifies where underground gas pipes are located so that they can be avoided during excavation. The markouts are only good for 45 business days, once the work begins, and the excavator is responsible for maintaining the markouts so that they remain visible even during digging.

You can help by learning what markouts look like – painted marks on the street, sidewalk or grass, and colored flags bearing PSE&G. If the paint is in the middle of a street or highway where flags can’t be planted, the flags will be aligned near the corresponding curbs. If you see someone digging, but don’t see paint and flags, call us and we’ll check out the situation. Better safe than sorry.

There are plenty of reasons why someone may dig without a markout, from lack of knowledge to someone who may think they can’t afford to wait the three days to get a job done. But it is a violation of state and federal law subject to civil and criminal penalties to dig without a markout. Excavators are 100 percent liable for recovery costs associated with damage response and repair. Most importantly, digging without knowing what is underground places life, health and property at risk.

It’s also common for markouts to be wiped out during landscaping when someone mowing a lawn might remove flags without returning them or cut the grass so low that it also eliminates the markout paint. Please make sure to avoid removing flags and paint and keep an eye out for the neighborhood landscaper, as well.

Some people falsely assume that gas pipes are buried deep in the ground and household digging for installing items such as a mailbox, a garden, a fence or a pool should not interfere. Many of our pipes are located only three feet or less from the surface and, even when buried deep, can rise over time as surfaces get regraded. Don’t take any chances; call 811 each and every time before digging. It’s the law.

When you’re being that nosy neighbor, don’t feel guilty about potentially wasting our time as we would rather have an opportunity to inspect an excavation than to have to respond to an emergency situation. You’ll feel better knowing that you contributed to reducing risks. We’ll feel better knowing that conscientious citizens like you are being our extra set of eyes in our neighborhoods.

You’ll still see us regularly out walking and driving around neighborhoods to inspect pipes and meters for gas leaks. In fact, we’re required to cover our entire territory every three years, so we inspect about one-third of the areas we serve every single year. Feel free to continue to ask us questions when you see us in your neighborhood. And we’ll be looking to thank all of our nosy neighbors.

Call Before You Dig Tips

When you call 811 before planting a tree or building a new deck, you’re automatically connected to the One Call Center. They will schedule a representative from each utility to “mark out” the location of underground lines within three business days. The lines are pinpointed by paint on the street or small flags/paint on the lawn. This service is free and critical to avoiding damage.

Every six minutes, an underground pipeline is accidentally damaged nationwide. Here’s what you can do to help:

CALL 811 at least three full business days before putting a shovel to the dirt. Respect the marks, and dig around them (not on them). Always carefully hand dig and locate the facilities within 2 feet of marked lines.

CHECK to see if your contractor has called 811. Don’t allow work to begin if the lines aren’t marked, and don’t assume they have called.

REMEMBER that both large and small projects require a call – whether you’re installing a mailbox, planting a new vegetable garden or putting in a pool.

REPORT a damaged gas line immediately by calling 911 and then PSE&G at 1-800-880-7734. Leave the area, move 350 feet away and make sure everyone is safe.

Calling 811 before you dig only takes a few minutes. Don’t put yourselves or others at risk. Always make the 811 call and put safety first!

Christer Edman, Sr. Distribution Supervisor, New Brunswick District, PSE&G

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