Dominion Energy employs over 17,000 people in 16 states, providing reliable, affordable and clean energy to nearly 7 million customers. It is a leader in the clean energy transition, with a clear strategy to achieve Net Zero carbon and methane emissions.
In North Carolina, Dominion Energy is responsible for more than 22,000 miles of service, distribution and transmission lines, and adding an average of 15,000-20,000 new
North Carolina customers each year in its service territory.
DOMINION ENERGY AND “CALL BEFOR YOU DIG”
Persida Montanez is Communications Consultant for Dominion Energy, where she works with journalists to share helpful information for customers and spotlights what the company and its employees are doing in the community. She's based in Raleigh but supports the company's North Carolina footprint, which includes the Triangle, the Charlotte suburbs and Western North Carolina. She also works with Dominion Energy teams on outreach to customers and communities for initiatives and projects. Before working for Dominion Energy, she was an adjunct at the ECU School of Communication.
Interviewing Persida today is Drew Ludlow, the Associate Editor of the Regency Park Partnership and also its Community Volunteer (CV) in Apex, North Carolina. Drew grew up in Wake County, went to high school in Raleigh and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. He has been the President of Citizens Assisting Police in Apex (CAPA) since 2018, and he is the Broker-In-Charge and owner of Ludlow Real Estate Group. He is a member of the National Association of Realtors and the North Carolina Association of Realtors. Drew currently lives in Apex with his wife and two boys.
Presida, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Before we get started, I want to share an experience one of our Volunteers had earlier this year.
His wife wanted a bush moved and he called NC811 before he began to dig. After the underground lines were marked, a neighbor asked why there were colored lines in his yard. As this Volunteer explained, she turned to face her house just in time to see a contractor shout that he had cut an underground line in her yard. At the same time, the neighbor’s husband came running out of the house saying there was no TV, no Internet, and the land line not working! While this was terribly inconvenient for them, at least it was not an underground natural gas line that had been cut …
Drew, that story clearly underscores the importance of contacting 811 before you dig and at a minimum, how inconvenient it can be to have a utility service disrupted by a seemingly ordinary digging project. It tells us that there are still people in our community who don’t know about 811 or are not aware of its importance. While this wasn’t an emergency situation, it could have been if an electric or gas line had been damaged.
That’s an excellent place to start!
We are seeing that as more people are moving to North Carolina from states where natural gas is more common, the demand for gas here increases. There is also increased demand from current residents as they learn about the benefits of natural gas, such as for the comfort and convenience it provides.
I want to mention that natural gas is essential for economic development as well. It is crucial that gas providers keep pace with growth and demand by modernizing, enhancing and expanding their natural gas systems for both homes and businesses.
Presida, I certainly agree and I know we are here to talk about the need for homeowners to have their underground utility lines marked before they dig. Before that, however, can we get a little background information?
Let’s start with the changes you have seen over the last 10 years in consumer demand for natural gas.
How many miles of underground gas lines is Dominion responsible for just in North Carolina here?
We have over 22,000 miles of service, distribution, and transmission lines here at the present time. That doesn’t include other natural gas lines and other utilities operate where we don’t. You might want to know we are adding an average of 15,000-20,000 new customers each year, so our underground system continues to grow.
You might also be interested in knowing that for the past two years, over 700,000 line marking requests have been submitted to Dominion Energy through the NC811 system. While the requests continue to increase, actual reports of damages have continued to decrease, but the goal is always zero.
22,000 miles of lines and more than 700,000 requests are really impressive figures. That certainly shows that damage reports are actually decreasing. With over 22,000 miles of pipelines, can you give us some idea of what you do to ensure the safety of your system?
We work diligently every day to ensure the safety of the public and the integrity of our natural gas system. This includes monitoring the flow and pressure of our system 24/7.
All of our transmission pipelines are surveyed and patrolled twice a year, and odorant levels are tested daily to ensure natural gas is detectable.
We continually ”leak survey” underground mains, service lines and meters in residential areas. We also check for any corrosion in compliance with a federally mandated schedule.
Hopefully we all know the tell-tale signs of a gas leak, but for those who may have recently signed up for natural gas service, what should they know?
That’s a good and very important question.
A rotten egg odor is the tell-tale sign. A hissing, whistling or roaring sound near a gas appliance or pipeline is another.
There could be discolored or dead vegetation over or near the pipeline. There might also be dirt or debris blowing into the air, or persistent bubbles in water-covered areas.
Of course, if there is a flame, there is most likely a leak that has already ignited.
So, what do we do if we suspect a leak, or if we know that one has occurred?
Drew, the answer to this question is so very important, and I want to be sure that everyone understands what to do.
You must leave the area immediately! You should also warn others to stay away if you have the opportunity to do so. As soon as you have done these two things, call 911 and also call us at 877-776-2427 immediately! I cannot stress the importance of these two things.
Please, never try to turn natural gas valves on or off. Do not smoke, use a lighter or strike a match, use any electric switch, telephone or cell phone, garage door opener or flashlight, or start or stop nearby vehicles or machinery. Doing any of These things can cause sparks and ignite the leaking gas.
And after that?
You simply wait. At no cost to you, trained technicians will mark the location of all utility lines on your property.
Once you've confirmed the utilities have been marked and you understand how close you can come to each line, it is safe to begin the digging project.
Presida, next to the importance of calling before you dig, what you just said may be the most important thing we can do to save lives and prevent property damage. I hope that by now, everyone understands this.
Next. what can we expect if a suspected leak is reported to you?
Our response is directed toward public safety first, then in controlling the pipeline release, and finally in making the necessary repairs. Shutting off the supply of gas to the location is the first step, followed by repairing the damage so that service can be restored. Often, this involves working collaboratively with emergency responders (fire and police), depending on the situation.
What happens in a situation where there may be only a “smell of gas”?
This is treated exactly the same way as for an actual leak. Leave the area immediately and then call 911 and Dominion Energy. We treat all odor calls seriously and will be thoroughly investigated.
I want to do some digging on my property. What do I do, and where do I go to ask to have my underground utilities marked? Please take me through the steps, 1-2-3. Make it easy for me. Just tell me what I need to do?
Drew, this process is very important and has been made very simple for all of us.
Just get on your phone and call NC811 before you dig. You can dial 1-800-632-4949, or simply dial 811. It really is easy. They are open to take your call Monday thru Friday, 7:00am to 7:00pm.
Also, please call at least three full working days before beginning any digging project so that the companies that have lines on your property will have an opportunity to mark them.
Do I have to call, or are there other ways to contact them?
You can also go to their website at nc811.org and submit a single address ticket. There is a lot of good information and resources there, but you may just want to submit a single address ticket. You can also download and use the NC811 app from your mobile phone. This is especially helpful if you want to make the request after business hours or on the go.
Persida, you mentioned confirming that the utilities have been marked. How do I do this? How can I know when all of my underground lines have been marked?
You can monitor your ticket through nc811.org where you can see the status of your ticket and which utilities may have not yet been marked. All utility companies have three working days to complete the request.
It does not matter if you called or opened your ticket online, this information will be there.
How accurate are your marked lines, and how close to them can I dig or excavate?
Always dig at least 24 inches from each side of marks, plus the width of the utility line itself.
The no-dig or tolerance zone is 24 inches on each side of the utility line. If you must dig within the tolerance zone, digging with caution and by hand is recommended to help reduce the possibility of damage to the located utility line.
Let’s say that I want to hire someone to dig on my property. Perhaps I want them to remove a tree or erect a small outbuilding with a foundation. Will the contractor be expected to call before they dig, or is that my job?
Markings indicate the approximate location of the lines. That’s why you should dig carefully around the marks.
This is another excellent and important question. Your contractor should manage the “call before you dig” process for you. They may already be familiar with the process. Make sure to always communicate that expectation. Be certain that they follow though. Landscaping, irrigation work, plumbing, fence installation and home expansion work are projects that have commonly caused line strikes in the past.
Are there any recent incidents that you can share when a contractor did not call first?
Yes. There is one recent incident that illustrates well what can happen if your contractor does not call.
In a North Raleigh residential neighborhood, a homeowner contracted a tree service company in early March to do some tree removal. The contractor failed to call 811 before they began excavation, and as they were removing the tree, they damaged a natural gas line. First responders arrived, their street was shut down and several homes had to be evacuated while Dominion Energy secured the leak.
Landscaping, irrigation work, plumbing, fence installation and home expansion work are common projects that have caused line strikes in the past.
Again, when you contract for a service that requires excavation, ensure that the contractor contacts 811 and the lines are marked. This inconvenient incident could have easily been avoided if the lines were marked.
If a homeowner cuts a gas line that is on their property, will you charge them with the cost of replacement or repair?
We handle each incident on a case-by-case basis. Our goal is to educate and work with the public and our customers. We have the ability to pursue damages any time a third-party is responsible for damage to our lines.
The good news is that in 2022, only three homeowners damaged gas lines in Dominion Energy's territory because they didn't call 811 prior to digging.
Who actually marks your gas lines? Does Dominion do this or does your sub-contractor do it?
We have in-house technicians who mark our lines and we also have a contractor as an additional resource to locate our gas line. Both are fully trained to do this very important task.
They mark gas lines rain or shine, and their role is true commitment to public safety.
Everyone should keep in mind that no matter who does the work, or what kind of line is being marked,
this is always a free service that all utilities provide for your safety.
This brings up another question. How are your gas lines located?
We use mapping, a physical locating device, and of course our knowledge of our natural gas line system to accurately mark our infrastructure. We use paint, flags, or sometimes both to provide the approximate location of the lines. The utility line could be anywhere within the 24” and the width of the utility itself as I talked about earlier
Can you describe the kinds of lines that will not be marked by a utility company?
Secondary water, sewer, gas and electric that are considered private lines will not be marked when contacting 811. Water, sewer and storm drain lines that are not on private property are only marked within the right of way or to the meter.
For these private lines, you will need to contact a private line locator to have them located.
What is the significance of the different colors used to mark underground utilities?
The color codes are as follows:
Proposed excavation will be marked in white, power lines will be marked in red, gas lines in yellow, communication lines in orange, water in blue, sewer are green, and purple will be for reclaimed water, irrigation and slurry lines.
Can I expect them to disappear or fade at some point?
Dominion Energy uses soluble paint that does fade in time. If it’s a low traffic or shaded area, the paint can take a little longer to fade away.
Presida, I think we can all agree that the only thing we ever want to see on our property are colored lines indicating where our underground utilities are. Not that we ever want to see an actual gas line, but for those that might be curious, what exactly is under our yards?
Another good question.
The gas lines feeding or going to residential areas are approximately 2” to 6” inches in diameter, and the typical diameter on your property is 3/4", although there are some that are 5/8".
Almost all of our gas lines are buried at least 18”, although there are some that are only 12” deep. The actual depth varies primarily due to the proximity of other underground utilities as well as rock formation that prevent us from installing a gas line deeper.
For those of us who wish to understand the process further and in more detail what educational resources might you recommend?
Education is always a good thing, especially when it comes to pipeline safety. Here are some of the on-line resources one might want to consider:
PipesPlus is a free damage prevention certification program offered online.
Presida, I want to thank you and Dominion Energy for participating in this most important interview, It has been so refreshing to hear from one of our most respected utilities concerning pipeline safety and the need to always call before you dig, no matter how small and inconsequential you may think your project may be. Please everyone out there, please call first and let all of your utility providers and NC811 do the next step for you – your life and the life of your neighbor may depend on it!
Thank you Drew, for this opportunity and to all of you, if you know of a neighbor, friend, or family member who plans to dig on their property, please ask them to call before they dig. Remember, not calling 811 could lead to inconvenient outages, traffic disruptions, fines or even injuries or death.
The Regency Park Partnership wishes to thank Persida Montanez and the other employees at Dominion Energy for their generous contributions to this project.
While April is National Safe Digging Month,
please make sure you call any time you need to dig,
and not just in the month of April.
We hope that their efforts will demonstrate to all of us the importance of always calling before we dig.