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Pipeline Safety Hearing In Bakersfield Focuses On Excavation Risks

PG&E's Joel Dickson testifies before a California Senate hearing on pipeline saftey in Bakersfield on Thursday.

California lawmakers gathered in Bakersfield today for a State Senate hearing on how to prevent pipeline “dig-in”accidents like the one in Kern County that killed an Earlimart man last month. FM89’s Joe Moore reports.

By using the 811 hotline excavation companies can call utilities before they dig and have them mark the location of buried pipelines. But there’s two problems. According to the Public Utilities Commission, in many cases excavators simply don’t use the service. Still, in about 30 percent of dig-in accidents, workers did call 811, but the lines weren’t marked on time, were mismarked, or were missed entirely.

Joel Dickson with PG&E admits the company needs to do a better job. He says this year his crews have missed or failed to mark lines 35 times, for a variety of reasons, things like:

Dickson: “Numerous locators, they needed more training, more time in the seat, they didn’t understand the procedure. Things we’re building into to be a professional organization. I don’t want any mismarks or no marks, that’s our goal."

But he says that’s a small number when compared with over the 700,000 requests to mark lines they’ve received this year.

There’s also another problem. While state law requires utilities to identify the location of their pipelines, it doesn’t require them to say how deep their lines are buried. Representatives from construction companies say that puts them and their crews in a potentially dangerous situation.

The hearing comes after two fatal dig-in accidents this year, including one in Fresno in April, and the November 15th accident in Bakersfield, where a tractor operator struck a line while preparing a farm field for a new orchard. That accident killed the operator and injured two others. 

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of KVPR / Valley Public Radio. He has led the station through major programming changes, the launch of KVPR Classical and the COVID-19 pandemic. Under his leadership the station was named California Non-Profit of the Year by Senator Melissa Hurtado (2019), and won a National Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting (2022).
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