A warm fall was finally bringing the right kind of weather for Austin Broden to install drain tile in a few spots on his fields. His tile plow had been sitting dormant for several seasons, just waiting for the right moment. In early December 2020, he had his chance. Broden knew he had to hurry because cold weather was on the way.
Broden, who grows corn, beans, edible beans, wheat, and sugar beets on land that straddles the Minnesota-North Dakota border, knows the right steps to take before digging. He had called 811 previously to have underground utilities marked before he broke ground on other fields, but in one spot, where he would be trenching away from the road and along a river, he assumed there were not utilities nearby, so he didn’t worry about making the call.
Then, as he broke ground to install the last of four drain tiles within an 80-foot area, his tile plow hit metal. He did not feel the impact, but he was scraping the top of a Cenex Pipeline, a refined petroleum pipeline.
“If I had known I was so close to that pipeline, I wouldn’t have attempted it,” Broden said. “We were almost done with the job and I was already thinking about the work we had to do on the next field down the road. It was a race against time.”
Know What’s Below
Under much of North America’s farmland lie buried utilities. From water to natural gas to oil and electricity, these utility lines carry resources to residents. They also carry dangerous consequences if they are damaged.
“Hitting an underground utility is a serious safety hazard and can even cost a life,” says Tina Beach, public awareness specialist for CHS, a farmerowned cooperative. The co-op works to educate farmers about digging safety through training sessions and partnerships with industry groups like the Pipeline Ag Safety Alliance and Pipeline Operators for Ag Safety.
Beach says the best course of action is to call 811 before breaking ground, no matter the depth or location. “Never assume you know where a buried utility is placed. It’s important to go straight to the source for information on utilities by contacting 811.”
Beach, who serves in leadership roles on state pipeline associations, state and local emergency response organizations, and national trade associations, reminds all ground disturbers that any impact to a buried facility needs to be reported immediately, even if there is no obvious damage. “It’s not just the immediate impact to the utility line that matters. Accidents can lead to corrosion and then safety or performance issues, so every incident must be reported and repaired.” Even a small scratch to a pipeline can cause serious corrosion to the line in years to come.
Pipelines are inspected for indications of excavation through a number of means, including from the air by plane or through right-of-way patrols.
“I was lucky,” says Broden, who was digging 52 inches below the surface. “When you are busy, it can be hard to plan ahead and slow down to make sure every step is taken. I’ve learned firsthand that safety must be first on the list.”
By calling 811 to have utility lines marked before digging, you can reduce your liability for damages. Even more important, you help ensure that everyone will go home safely at the end of the day.
“It takes a lifetime to build a farm,” says Beach. “It takes just one free call to 811 to keep it safe.”
Find out more at chsinc.com