SHERIDAN — When there is an accident involving a pipeline, emergency personnel, law enforcement and pipeline technicians, operators must have the correct knowledge to assess the situation in a safe, but life-saving manner.
The Wyoming Pipeline Association, along with about five pipeline companies, hosted a presentation Feb. 6 about how to control and assess an emergency situation involving a pipeline accident.
Roy Buck, a representative from CS Consulting and contracted by WYPA, visited Sheridan and will continue to present safety tactics and how to administer them to the scene of an accident involving airborne gas or crude oil, throughout Wyoming and Colorado.
Buck said there are hundreds and thousands of pipelines running underground throughout the country carrying gallons of products that one could not begin to comprehend. Pipelines are an important tool in transporting gas or liquid material. Without pipelines, all hazardous gas and liquid would have to be transported in trucks on roadways, causing an obscene amount of traffic and other potential dangers.
A big release may consist of 3,000 to 4,000 barrels of material after an accident occurs, Buck said. The damage will send an alert to the pipeline operators before first responders. Pipeline associates responded, saying they would ask why there was a drop in pressure as an initial examination before law enforcement was contacted. They would also try to contain the release, block the valves and shut off the source within the pipelines to avoid further catastrophe. The pipeline associates also said they would contact the control and pump stations to evaluate the issue.
Pipeline companies agreed that service technicians would be on the scene of the accident with gas monitors assessing the situation.
Law enforcement said protecting the public is its No. 1 priority. Members from local fire departments agreed protecting themselves and collaborating with how to approach the situation is most important. In these situations it is OK for first responders to be selfish in protecting themselves before trying to rescue another, Buck said.
Sheridan Local Emergency Planning Committee chairman Steve Small said in this type of situation involving a pipeline accident, it is a combined effort from all local authorities and first responders involved to save the lives of others. Small said good communication between operators and responders is the most important tool in containing and assessing any kind of pipeline accident.
Buck and Small both urged the awareness of the “one call,” or dialing 811 before digging into the ground.
“Its pretty simple,” Buck said. “Before you start digging for any infrastructure, you have to call 811 as a federal law.”
Once the number is called, gas, electrical, and pipeline companies arrive to asses the area and determine if it is safe for digging. Buck said if a person does not make the call and ends up digging into a pipeline, that person is responsible for the entire cost of fixing that line.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-foot trench for a sprinkler or an eight-foot trench for a new building — they have to call.”
Buck explained a scenario that if someone digging accidentally shut off the supply or material to a residential area and someone died as a result, the person who initially dug into the ground could be responsible. Buck said the 811 number is for everyone to use such as residents and businesses.
“The bottom line is the 811 line is for public safety. First responders don’t want anything to happen and it also makes their job easier than having the incidents happen at all.”