Underground pipelines crisscross the country and farmers should be aware a simple call to 811 will find them before you dig your way to trouble

Underground pipelines criss-cross the country and farmers should be aware a simple call to 811 will find them before you dig your way to trouble.

Are you digging your way to disaster?

Tiling, on-farm improvements, and other actions often require digging. Trouble is sometimes where you want to dig may have a surprise waiting underground. While growers may already feel they have a good idea of where pipelines, powerlines and other buried lines are on the farm, but if that was true there wouldn't be any problem with digging accidents in the country.

"Even one incident is too many," says Kesley Tweed, who works with Enbridge Energy Company. "We want to work to prevent those incidents."

And it's relatively easy. All you have to do before digging is call 811 and within three business days someone will come to your farm and mark the area you want to dig.

Enbridge had four farmers strike underground pipelines in 2013 during digging and another seven came too close for comfort, Tweed says. Digging accidents on the farm contributed to the loss of nearly 25,000 barrels of oil - or gas equivalent - in 2013.

If grandpa remembers an oil or gas pipeline was buried on the farm a few years ago, does he remember exactly where it went? Better not to guess.

Survey says

Enbridge conducted a survey of farmers to get a better idea of their thoughts on the topic. The survey included a random sample of about 200 farmers (national political polling relies on just 1,200 to 1,500 so this is a solid sample). They looked at key concerns for farmers when it comes to buried pipieplines. Number one on their list is hitting buried lines. Key concerns are power lines, phone lines and water lines coming to the farm.

"Those are services farmers rely directly on," Tweed says. "But they may not consider oil pipelines that run on their farms that don't provide the farm a service."

The survey also showed that while more than two-thirds of farmers were aware of the 811 service to mark pipelines, less than one-third admit to using the service. "There's a disconnect here," Tweed says.

Interestingly, among the minority that do call 811 about 43% always call, but another 31% report they sometimes call. They may say the use the 811 line, but even they don't always rely on the service.

The survey shows that those that don't call 811 and those that do report the same reasons. For those that don't call that number more than half say they know where the lines are buried. That's also the most common mistake when a line strike happens.

Not so deep

Many reading this will wonder how deep pipelines are buried, and Tweed says 3 feet is ideal, but soil types and other local conditions could 'raise' that line so it's less than 20 inches below the surface. You can't always assume what you do is keeping you away from trouble.

The other challenge is just knowing exactly where the line is. Tiling has been a significant issue as farmers trench new lines and come close (or even impact) underground pipelines, power lines and other features.

The survey showed that nearly two thirds didn't realize pipelines could be a shallow as 18-inches or less. And more than half didn't realize 811 is a free call. "Sometimes people will say they can't always plan three days in advance to get the lines marked," Tweed says. "However, we find in the survey that farmers say the plan when they'll do digging or trenching at least three or four days in advance."

And the key message? Those pipelines can carry explosive/flammable gases and a strike could do more than cause a leak. You could be at risk to your personal health and safety.

Enbridge is embarking on an awareness campaign on the topic, so chances are you'll see more information about the survey and the need to call 811.

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