By G.H. Scott
Published in the Las Cruces Bulletin 6/25/21
Ruptures or breaks in natural gas lines are serious business. And in most cases, they are innocently caused by people who don’t take the proper precautions before digging in their yards. Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) is a part of the national “call before you dig” network, which urges customers to call 811 before they dig on their property. While preventing disasters are easy, accidents still happen all too frequently.
To prepare for gas line breaks, LCU conducts mock training exercises for work crews in conjunction with the 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.
A typical training exercise involves a mock scenario where LCU receives a call of a hit on a gas line. Once the call is received, dispatch sends an LCU service member trained as a first responder to the location. “For the field exercise, we bury a polyethylene (poly) line in the ground and run 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. The service member evaluates the situation, sets up a hot zone (danger zone), and monitors the situation until a repair crew pinches or plugs the line to stop the flow of gas.
LCU crews use breathing equipment, hand tools, shovels, and backhoes for the exercise – everything necessary in actual situations. 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 the exercise, as in a live event, LCFD is called to assist. “They set up an incident command center, 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. Afterwards a briefing takes place between crews from LCU and LCFD 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, we have open communication. 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 gas crew coordinating with LCFD during training exercise at Las Cruces International Airport - Courtesy of LCU.