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Rash of gas line strikes plague Saskatchewan worksites

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by Richard Gilbert

The early start of the construction season in Saskatchewan has led to a series of natural gas line hits in the province.

The early start of the construction season in Saskatchewan has led to a series of natural gas line hits in the province.

“So far in the month of April, we have had 10 hits,” said SaskEnergy spokesman Dave Burdeniuk.

“We prefer to have none, but the majority of these hits have been from contractors, and one homeowner, who didn’t call for line locates before digging.”

The Saskatchewan government declared April as Safe Digging Month, in partnership with Sask 1st Call and the Saskatchewan Common Ground Alliance (SCGA).

The goal is to increase public awareness on the importance of working safely around underground infrastructure.

However, in the first week of the month, there were four line hits in Regina and another in Saskatoon.

Some residents in the Gardiner Heights-area of Regina were evacuated from their homes for about two hours after a City of Regina construction crew, installing a catch basin in the 2200 block of Truesdale Drive, hit a five-centimetre natural gas line.

No one was injured and city workers were moved to another task while the line was repaired.

Upgrades to water lines in the area are expected to keep part of Truesdale Drive closed for about a month.

April is traditionally the start of the annual digging season in Saskatchewan and uncontrolled excavation is the most frequent cause of damage to buried infrastructure and facilities.

“We continue to see tremendous growth in the number of calls received by Sask 1st Call, with more than 106,000 line locate requests from contractors and homeowners last year alone,” Sask 1st Call manager Cheryl Elmer said.

“That means the large majority of people are getting the message. Those who don’t call before digging begins on their project are putting their workers and the public at risk.”

According to Burdeniuk, a large increase in construction activity in Saskatchewan in 2011 resulted in a record number of hits (271) in the province.

“There has been a lot of growth everywhere, not just in the main urban centres,” he said.

“We have also seen an increase in unsafe work practices. Contractors are calling for a locate, but they are not engaging in safe work practices.”

Saskatchewan has a 1st Call center where contractors can call, at no charge, to notify SaskEnergy of their intent to dig.

As a result of this call, a utility locator is dispatched within two days to physically mark the locations of the underground gas line at no charge to the contractor.

More importantly, legislation in Saskatchewan requires contractors, who do an excavation, to daylight the pipe, which means exposing the pipe on either side of the locate, by hand using a shovel.

Burdeniuk said contractors who hit a line without doing a locate can be slapped with a fine that starts at about $2,000, which is about the cost of the repair crew and equipment.

Fine can increase to more than $10,000, if a contractor hits a distribution line.

The mild winter has allowed SaskEnergy to begin its 2012 enhanced safety and pipeline integrity program several weeks ahead of schedule.

The 2012 program will continue to focus on areas where soil conditions are prone to ground shifting, when excessive moisture is present, such as parts of South Regina, as well as the communities of Leader and Prelate.

The program will involve a combination of visual inspection of pipeline, as well as upgrades to natural gas service lines and other underground and above-ground pipeline facilities.

Last year, 2,200 natural gas service connections had system upgrade work done, with 1,300 of these in the Regina neighbourhoods of Whitmore Park, Hillsdale and Douglas Park.

Another 500 services were upgraded in other Regina neighbourhoods, 300 in the communities of Cabri and Kyle, and 100 in other parts of the province.

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