Question: I’ve always used the word “abandoned” to describe an unused pipe in the ground, but lately I’ve been hearing the term “out-of-service.” Is there a difference between them? And, if not, which one is the right one to use?
Answer: The term “abandoned” has long been used by laymen, utility owners, and professionals alike to describe a utility which seems no longer in use. However, from a legal perspective when dealing with rights-of-way, “abandoned” has a more prescriptive meaning. An “Abandoned Utility” is infrastructure in the ground that is no longer owned by the utility owner. This means the person owning or controlling the land is now responsible for all
aspects of that remaining infrastructure (moving, removing, finding, etc.). However, there may also be utility infrastructure owned by a utility owner that is not being actively used at the moment, but might be brought back
into service at a future date. These “inactive” or “out-of-service” utilities are still owned by the utility owner and they are still responsible for the costs associated with keeping them, moving them, and maintaining them.
It may be difficult to figure out from typical utility location records or even field observation if a utility is truly abandoned versus inactive, but the cost consequences of mislabeling them on plans or not marking them in
the field can be significant.
In its next imminent revision, ASCE 38, Standard Guideline for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data, will suggest that one of the attributes a utility line segment should have is its “Operational Status” (OP). There will be four such OPs: Active, Inactive (or out-of-service),
James Anspach PG ret, F.ASCE, is Director of Utility Market & Practice Development for Cardno’s Utility Engineering and Survey Practice. He is considered a principal founder of the profession of subsurface utility engineering and an authority on standard of care issues for the utility damage prevention industry and the practice of subsurface utility engineering.