Modern life has made construction difficult. Digging on your own property used to be a simple task that just involved tools and some physical labour. These days, there’s an entire world of pipes, wires, lines and cables criss-crossing the land – all waiting to get in your way once you break ground.
The field of utility mapping has become very successful, helping people figure out just what is under their property, so that digging and construction can be done safely.
While cutting the cable line is an inconvenience, damaging a gas main is a serious hazard. Once there’s a gas leak, even the tiniest spark can cause an explosion. Keeping that in mind, what should you do if you hit a gas main?
Start with prevention
The best first step is to avoid the whole problem to begin with by accurately determining what is underground at your dig site. You can either call your various utilities and get as much information from them as you can, or use your region’s “call before you dig” service (which is typically free). The service should cover all the utilities, so it’s a more efficient approach.
Most of these services will check with their records to determine precisely what is (or isn’t) under your property. Even though we’re talking solely about gas lines here, it’s good to get info on all possible obstacles. For a more direct view of what’s underground, to cover all the bases and to include things that may not be on record, hire a company to do a mapping with ground penetrating radar.
Be warned, that many places will hold you liable if you do dig and hit a utility without having called the service for guidance.
You’ve hit the gas main
Even with all your planning, accidents can still happen. If you hit a gas line, you should immediately evacuate everyone out of the area. Clear out an area of at least 100 feet, and turn off all power equipment in the same range. That means electrical as well as any gas-powered machines. Battery-powered flash lights or task lights should also be off. Any slight spark can ignite the gas.
Don’t base your actions on whether you can smell any gas. Though natural gas should have an odour, a small leak may be undetectable outdoors, and will continue to seep gas as you work.
Once you’ve cleared the area, call the gas company. Be clear that you think you’ve hit a gas pipe and they’ll let you know what to do next. They can likely clarify that the pipe is indeed a gas main (if you aren’t positive), and they’ll send out a professional crew to deal with it.
If you haven’t called the dig safety line beforehand, don’t let that stop you from calling. Fear of litigation or fines shouldn’t prevent you from doing the right thing and reporting the damage. The risks of fire or explosion are too serious for that.