HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20th District) that would ensure greater public safety by extending and expanding provisions of the PA One Call Law.
Also known as 811, the communications system helps prevent damage to underground utilities and avoid tragedies by requiring companies and people to “Call Before You Dig.” That information is then used to determine if there are any lines at-risk in the area, so they can be marked prior to excavation.
In floor remarks, Baker noted, “bipartisan support has kept this issue on the agenda and put us in position to finally succeed in improving community safety through better compliance and better enforcement of pipeline safety.”
Chief among the changes proposed in SB 242 is assigning enforcement powers to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), a shift Baker believes makes sense because the agency already regulates the utilities participating in PA One Call. Currently the Department of Labor and Industry is responsible for enforcement. An important companion to the oversight structure is the creation of a Damage Prevention Committee that will work in conjunction with the PUC to promote industry best practices and collect accident data in order to achieve a stronger safety record with our underground utility lines.
All Class 1 pipelines, located in more rural areas that carry unconventional oil or natural gas, will now be included in PA One Call, as will conventional oil or natural gas pipelines with a diameter greater than 8 inches. Other implementations in the bill include new mapping enhancements to better locate existing underground lines plus those of new construction.
“This bill is a substantial improvement. It is building upon a solid law that we have and it will provide responsible and reasonable action,” Baker said.
It is estimated there are more than 6,000 “hits” each year, approximately half involving natural gas lines. These incidents jeopardize the public, place workers at risk, and compromise infrastructure. Preventing pipeline damage increases safety and reduces costs.
“The intent of this bill is to reduce the number of problems encountered,” Baker said. “By implementing some common sense safety measures, we are acting to help prevent catastrophes.”
The legislature granted a one-year extension of the program last year, but Baker insists a long-term fix is warranted.