Murray Peat, Manager at Line watch, one of the leading pipeline safety and awareness groups, talks to us about how fencing contractors can ensure they stay safe on-site whilst better protecting the UK’s underground network of pipes at the same time.

On average approximately 300 pipeline infringements, where a pipeline is damaged or narrowly missed by a third party, are recorded each year in the UK. More than 25 percent of these incidents are by fencing contractors undertaking work without first conducting essential utility searches. It can be tempting to cut corners, and just get on with the job, especially when it’s something you’ve done hundreds of times before, but you can never be certain of what lies beneath. Underground pipeline networks carry oil, gas, and chemical products at extremely high pressures. If these get accidentally damaged or ruptured, it could result in irreversible damage to the environment, as well as causing serious injury, or worse, to you and your team.

Fencing and landscaping related infringements have been steadily increasing over the past few years, so it’s important to always remain vigilant.

In Practice

So, what does actually hitting a pipeline look like in real life? Well, recently a fencing contractor installing a new agricultural fence in The Midlands, drove one of the fencing posts directly onto a 200mm steel oil pipeline which had an operating pressure of 46 bar. The landowner was aware of the pipeline but had failed to inform the fencing contractor so there was no contact made with the pipeline operator before work began.

The fence post was installed using a hydraulic post knocker which resulted in the pipeline and wrapping being heavily damaged. The pipeline operator was alerted to the issue and implemented a temporary seven-day pressure restriction so the fence post could be safely extracted.

Once the fence post was removed from the pipeline, the damage was assessed, and repairs could begin. The pipeline is now fully operational again and the pipeline operator is seeking the cost of the repairs from the landowner, which ran into thousands of pounds. In fact, we estimate that the total cost of a pipeline breach is as much as £10-15 million all told, and that’s without considering the ongoing costs associated with landowners not being able to use their land for a time too.

Luckily in this instance, nobody was hurt. However, it could have been much more serious had the pipeline been fully breached.

For more information on pipeline safety or to book a free pipeline safety presentation, please visit www.linewatch.org.uk.

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