There are four main types of pipelines: crude oil, liquid, gas and chemical. Most run underground, and are clearly identified by markers along routes that identify their approximate – not exact – location. Typically, markers are found where a pipeline intersects a street, highway or railway. Pipeline markers do not indicate depth or number of pipelines in the vicinity, and the pipeline may not follow a straight course between markers. Every marker provides the name of the operating company, the product transported, and an emergency contact phone number.
Types of Markers
- Pipeline Marker: The most common marker, it contains operator information, product type, and an emergency contact number. They are typically yellow, black and red – but size, shape and color may vary.
- Aerial Marker: Patrol planes that monitor pipeline routes use this skyward-facing marker.
- Casing Vent Marker: This marker indicates that a pipeline (protected by a steel outer casing) passes beneath a nearby roadway, railway or other crossing.
Recognizing a Pipeline Emergency
- Liquid pools
- Continuous bubbling in wet or flooded areas
- Oily sheen on water or surfaces
- Vaporous fogs or blowing dirt around a pipeline area
- Dead or discolored plants in an otherwise healthy area
- Frozen ground in warm weather
- Quiet hissing to loud roar, depending on the size of the leak and pipeline system
Natural gas and highly volatile liquids are often colorless, tasteless and odorless. Gas transmission/gas gathering pipelines are odorless, but may have a hydrocarbon smell.
- Unusual smell
- Petroleum odor
- Gaseous odor
Respond to an Emergency
- Without risking injury, turn off equipment and eliminate ignition sources
- Leave the area by foot immediately. Try to direct bystanders to leave the area, and attempt to stay upwind
- From a safe location, immediately call 911 or your local emergency response number. Then, look for pipeline markers and notify the pipeline operator.
- Light a match, flip an electrical switch, ring a doorbell, or start a motor vehicle or electrical equipment
- Come into direct contact with escaping liquids or gas
- Drive into a leak vapor cloud
- Attempt to operate pipeline valves
- Attempt to extinguish a petroleum product or natural gas fire
Pipeline Operator Contact Information
Emergency Contact Directory:
- Cenex and Front Range Pipelines: 800-421-4122
- CHS Council Bluffs and Conway Pipelines: 844-721-6611
- Jayhawk and KAW Pipelines: 888-542-9575
Non-emergency contact information:
Report an Incident
While pipeline emergencies are rare, a leading cause of pipeline incidents is third-party excavation damage. Although pipeline operators are responsible for the safety and security of their pipelines, neighbors can help maintain the integrity of pipelines and their rights-of-way by protecting against unauthorized excavations or other destructive activities. Here’s how you can help:
- Look for pipeline markers and facilities in your area and become familiar with pipeline marker signs, fence signs at gated entrances, etc.
- Record the operator name, contact information and any pipeline information from nearby marker/facility signs and add it to your phone's contact list.
- Be aware of any unusual or suspicious activities or unauthorized excavations taking place within or near the pipeline right-of-way or pipeline facility, and report these activities to the pipeline operator and your local law enforcement.
When reporting unusual or suspicious activity, be sure to describe:
- What happened
- How many people were involved
- Where it happened
- When it happened
When reporting a person, include personal characteristics like:
- Facial features
- Hair color/length
- Tattoos/distinguishing marks
When reporting a vehicle, include features such as:
- Vehicle make, model and color
- License plate number and state
- Bumper stickers
- Body damage or modifications
What is "Call 811 Before You Dig"?
811 is a free, nationwide service designed to keep you safe from damaging pipelines and underground utilities when digging or excavating. Calling 811 is a simple process meant to help you avoid significant consequences, including potential damage to or destruction of equipment, as well as injury or death. Many states now offer online 811 options – learn more here
A right-of-way is the strip of land over and around a pipeline, generally extending 25 feet from each side, where the property owner has sold legal rights to a pipeline company. You may not dig or build on a right-of-way. Do not build structures, put up fences, or plant trees or large shrubs in these areas. If you have questions about a pipeline or its location, call the number on the nearest pipeline marker, and an inspector will assess your specific situation.
Damaged or Disturbed Pipelines
State laws require you to maintain a minimum clearance on either side of a pipeline, between the point of excavation and a marked pipeline. Check with your state’s 811 One-Call for specific zone requirements. If you cause or witness even minor damage to a pipeline or its protective coating, immediately notify the pipeline company. Even small gouges, dents, creases or scrapes need inspection.