Pennsylvania lawmakers review One Call program for buried gas lines

By Tory N. Parrish

The death of a construction worker whose excavator struck an underground gas line in Armstrong County last year highlights gaps in a state alert system for marking lines, according to advocates seeking a change in the law.

“Obviously, it’s a terrible tragedy, but it does highlight that these risks exist, and I would argue this is an ongoing risk,” said Andrew Place, vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which has renewed its call to revamp the PA One Call system.

Lawmakers are debating a bill that would renew One Call — which excavators use to report plans to dig and requires underground line owners to mark their lines with paint or flags — and move its operation to the PUC. Supporters want to remove an exemption in both current law and the proposed bill that excludes the marking of some gathering lines leading from oil and gas wells in rural areas.

“Excavators should not have to worry about the existence of lines that they don’t know about,” said Bill Kiger, president of the Pennsylvania One Call System Inc., a West Mifflin-based nonprofit that manages the program.

The bill from Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Tioga County, exempts what are known as Class 1 lines, which are used in areas with 10 or fewer habitable structures within 660 feet of the pipeline. The exemption was created before shale gas drilling greatly increased their use and the amount of gas flowing through them. The PUC estimates there are 10,000 miles of Class 1 gathering lines in the state.

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