Natural Gas Pipeline Safety and Damage Prevention

The DCPSC Office of Compliance & Enforcement (OCE) provides oversight of the transport of natural gas in the District of Columbia. OCE staff make safety their top priority and consistently exceed performance trends to ensure that District residents and businesses are protected.

Natural Gas Pipeline Safety
The DCPSC manages the District’s Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Program, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation, that ensures the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the city’s natural gas pipeline is in compliance with federal and local safety regulations.
If the pipeline is found to be out of compliance, the DCPSC takes enforcement action against Washington Gas (WGL), the District’s natural gas utility. These actions could include ordering WGL to develop and implement corrective actions (providing written confirmation when complete) and/or assessing civil penalties. 

OCE staff assures compliance to these regulations on an ongoing basis through several actions:
  • Assigning a pipeline safety program manager trained and certified by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to lead, direct, and champion the program
  • Deploying three PHMSA-trained and certified pipeline safety engineers/inspectors to conduct daily inspections of pipeline construction and maintenance sites, operational records, and pipeline facilities
  • Deploying a damage prevention inspector to conduct daily excavation damage prevention inspections
  • Conducting natural gas accident investigations
  • Implementing enforcement actions
  • Assessing risks and developing regulations and standards to facilitate natural gas pipeline safety and excavation damage prevention
  • Monitoring the training and verifying the operator qualifications of gas utility personnel
  • Promoting natural gas pipeline safety and excavation damage prevention through public education and communication programs (including 811 “Call Before You Dig")
Damage Prevention
Digging projects that are too close to gas pipelines cause most accidents. A handheld shovel can damage underground utilities and larger construction equipment like backhoes and bulldozers can damage any underground facility.

Local code requires utilities to locate and mark their underground facilities once they receive a notification of an excavation project that may affect their underground facilities. The local code also requires property owners to call 811 before they start digging to give utility companies an opportunity to identify and mark the approximate locations of buried gas lines and other utilities in the project area.
On the enforcement side, the DCPSC follows up on various violations, including failure of WGL to meet operator qualification requirements, failure to mark gas pipelines in a project area, or marking the gas pipeline inaccurately.
The DCPSC also tracks and analyzes trends in underground damage prevention activities. This includes the number of requests to identify, locate and track underground facilities; responses to those requests from the utility; and reports of damage to underground facilities.
811 “Call Before You Dig”
There are nearly 20 million miles of underground utility lines in the United States that include gas, water, sewer, cable TV, high-speed Internet, landline telephone and electric.
If you’re planning a job that requires digging, even if you plan to hire a professional, a call to 811 is required before you begin working. 811 is a free, FCC-designated national one-call number that connects a caller from anywhere in the country to the appropriate local call center, which, in the District, is Miss Utility.
Learn more about 811 “Call Before You Dig”
PHMSA Pipeline Safety Grant Program
The District’s Pipeline Safety Program is 50% funded by a grant from PHMSA and 50% from an assessment on WGL. As part of its annual grant evaluation process, PHMSA and the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives review and score the DCPSC on a set of performance metrics, including: 
  • Leak management
  • Incident investigations
  • Damage prevention activities
  • State/local qualifications
  • Records inspections
  • Six categories of field inspections
  • Enforcement activities
 The DCPSC has consistently received 100% ratings in these evaluations.