I-Team: Gas lines hit by contractors

Contractors cause hundreds of gas line accidents each year in Massachusetts.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - Contractors cause hundreds of gas line accidents each year in Massachusetts. The 22News I-Team reveals the dangers, why they're happening and who pays to fix it.

From the day of the Springfield gas explosion that leveled several buildings through the end of 2015, The I-Team discovered contractors, utility companies and homeowners have caused hundreds of gas line accidents. That without the quick work of the gas company could have led to much bigger problems.

We see it all the time, construction crews doing some road work and they accidentally hit an underground gas line. Streets get blocked off, while the gas company works quickly to shut off the line and fix the problem before it gets too dangerous.

“Our damage prevention coordinator will go out on scene, take pictures and interviews, make sure the locations are correct and begin his investigation,” said Andrea Luppi, Communications and Community Manger for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.

The I-Team requested and reviewed state records. From November 2012 through the end of 2015, 1,434 gas line accidents were reported to the state. That's more than one per day. Outside of Boston;

Chicopee and Springfield reported the highest number of gas line accidents.

  • Springfield: 48
  • Chicopee: 50

“There's so many roads in Chicopee that are under construction, and more work being done, there's more of an inherent chance that something might get hit,” said Chicopee Fire Captain Mark Galerneau.

Fire departments respond to all gas line accidents.

“If the contractor is doing their due diligence and do what they're supposed to do I think they can minimize the problems,” said Galerneau.

Contractor Fault:
6 out of 10 times

State records show that 6 out of 10 times, a contractor is at fault. F & J Construction and Ludlow Construction Company both based on the same street in Ludlow have each hit gas lines 15 times.

We had called both companies and went to Ludlow Construction. They never got back to us. We then went into F & J Construction, or what I thought was F & J construction, the business owner inside said that F & J isn't there and only rents out the space. We left F & J a voicemail, but never heard back.

State records for Gas Line Accidents:

  • 522 times adequate precaution was not employed.
  • 413 times the lines were mis-marked or not maintained.
  • 350 times no one called dig safe.

Dial 811
Know what's below.
Call before you dig.

Dig Safe lets participating utility companies know about your plans to dig. In turn, these utilities mark the location of their underground equipment. If you are doing any work at home, be sure to call dig safe 8-1-1, so the Utility companies can come and mark your lines. State law requires any person performing excavations on public or private property to call Dig Safe.

Overview: The Dig Safe Law

Is training mandatory for excavators or contractors?

“It is not mandatory, unfortunately it's not mandatory,” said Luppi.

Should it be? “We would love to see it made mandatory, it would only lend itself to the decrease in numbers,” said Luppi.

State lawmakers would have to create a new law to make Dig Safe training mandatory for contractors. The state penalizes companies that hit gas lines. The fines range from $1000 - $7000, and the state collected $2,250,000 from November 2012 through the end of 2015. The fines are deposited into the general fund.

By statute and regulation, fines for violation of the Dig Safe Laws:

  • $1,000 for a first offense
  • $5,000 minimum to a maximum of $10,000 for repeat offenses occurring within a 12 month period.

The party that caused the damage will be responsible for the cost and actual work of fixing the damaged lines. If a contractor damages an underground facility, it must notify the utility company who is impacted as soon as possible pursuant to 220 CMR § 99.06(2). That being said, the cost of damage will be collected by the company who owns that damaged line.

What typically leads to these strikes?

It varies, but generally speaking a strike occurs when an excavator fails to take reasonable precautions around the underground facilities.

What trends if any are we seeing (i.e., a decline in strikes)?

DPU’s data shows fewer damaged utilities per year, with total strikes declining by 1% between 2014 and 2015.

The DPU does public outreach each year to make contractors aware that they need to call 8-1-1 to have underground utility lines marked before starting any outdoor digging project.

DPU also gives presentations at the Massachusetts Underground Safety Training (MUST) training sessions for excavators.

BACKGROUND:

“The dig safe law, G. L. c. 82, §§ 40-40E, and the regulations promulgated thereunder, 220 Code Mass. Regs. §§ 99.00-99.12 (2008), are designed to protect life and property by requiring excavators to comply with notification and safety procedures. See generally Yukna v. Boston Gas Co., 1 Mass. App. Ct. 62 , 66-67 (1973). An excavator must "premark[]" the location of the intended work using white paint, stakes, or other suitable white markings. G. L. c. 82, § 40A. See 220 Code Mass. Regs. § 99.02 (2008). The excavator then must notify the call center, "accurately" describing the excavation location, and indicating the date that excavation is expected to begin. G. L. c. 82, § 40A. 220 Code Mass. Regs. § 99.04 (2008). Except in the case of emergency, the excavator cannot proceed with the work until at least seventy-two hours after giving notice. See G. L. c. 82, § 40A; 220 Code Mass. Regs. § 99.04 (2008). During this seventy-two hour period, the call center notifies the utility companies that have underground facilities where the excavation is to occur. Using standard, color-coded markings, each such company must mark the location of any of its facilities within the excavator's premarking zone and an additional fifteen-foot safety zone. See G. L. c. 82, § 40B; 220 Code Mass. Regs. § 99.05 (2008). At the conclusion of the seventy-two hour period, the excavator may begin work, but must use "reasonable precautions" when in close proximity to an underground facility in order to avoid damaging it. G. L. c. 82, § 40C. 220 Code Mass. Regs. § 99.06(1) (2008). "[R]easonable precautions" include using "non-mechanical means" when excavating near an underground facility. G. L. c. 82, § 40C. See 220 Code Mass. Regs. § 99.06(1) (2008). Violation of any provision of the dig safe statute or regulations is subject to a penalty of $1,000 for a first offense, and between $5,000 and $10,000 for any subsequent offense within twelve consecutive months. See G. L. c. 82, § 40E; 220 Code Mass. Regs. § 99.12(1) (2008).” DeFelice Corporation vs. Department of Public Utilities, 88 Mass. App. Ct. 544, 546-47 (2015).

Gas leaks in western Massachusetts

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