By G.H. Scott
Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 6/20/21
You would be surprised how common gas line ruptures and breaks occur. And just like forest fires, only you can prevent them. Most gas line breaks are human caused, which is why Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) asks you to call the national hotline number 8-1-1 before you dig.
Since accidents do happen, LCU continually trains employees for major and minor accidents with events such as mock training exercises between the utility and Las Cruces Fire Department (LCFD). “A mock gas line rupture shows the dangers of digging without permission and also helps us improve our communication skills with the LCFD,” said Ramiro Pereyra, LCU Gas systems inspection supervisor.
In the mock gas rupture scenario, LCU receives a call of a hit on a gas line and dispatch sends a service member who is a trained first responder on gas line hits. The service member evaluates the situation, sets up a hot zone (danger zone) and monitors the affected gas line until a repair crew either pinches the line or plugs it to stop the flow of gas. “For the field exercise, LCU buries a polyethylene line in the ground and runs air from a compressor through the line to simulate a gas leak. It won’t smell, but you can see it and hear it,” said Jeff Griffith, LCU Gas safety training coordinator.
What people don’t understand is that most low-pressure lines are poly lines, and they don’t have shut off valves to isolate them. “One of the reasons we pinch the line where it’s broken is to minimize disrupting gas flow to other customers’ homes and businesses. If we had to shut off valves, it would stop service to larger sections of the city,” said Griffith.
During exercises, as in live events, LCFD is called to assist. “They set up an incident command center and take control of the perimeter and deploy their hoses. If things go bad, they can perform rescues and evacuate people from homes and businesses,” said Pereyra.
This year, the day-long exercise was at the Las Cruces International Airport. Immediately following the exercise, crews from LCU and LCFD conduct a briefing to review how the training protocols were followed. “This is more of a communication exercise so if something does happen, and God willing nothing will ever happen, they know what to expect from us, and we know what to expect from them,” said Pereyra.
Striking a natural gas line is not something anyone should take lightly. LCU reminds everyone to call 8-1-1 before digging in your yard or around your home or business to avoid serious injuries to yourself or others. “It happens frequently because gas lines are not that deep - only 18 to 24 inches below the surface,” Griffith said.
LCU Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: LCU work crew repairing gas line during training exercise at Las Cruces International Airport - Courtesy of LCU.