CAMBY, Ind. -- As the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission investigates which excavator caused a gas line break that lead to a house fire and explosion, records show damage happens more often that you’d think.
In 2016 the IURC investigated 2,113 damages to natural gas lines in Indiana to determine if they violated Indiana’s “Call Before you Dig” law.
Thus far in 2017, IURC has received 1,349 reports of damage to gas lines, records show.
That’s the equivalent to more than five incidents every single day.
Over the last three years, the IURC has assessed nearly $3 million in fines to excavators and operators for violations of the “Call Before You Dig” law.
A spokesperson for Comcast said they had a crew digging in the area of the Camby explosion, and workers smelled gas and reported it to 811.
The company also said Comcast did file work orders with 811 before digging, however, Comcast will not say if their crew was responsible for hitting the gas line.
Indiana 811 Public Relations Director Chuck Muller said if you call before you dig, it greatly reduces your chance of hitting a utility line.
“If you call before you dig, you have less than a 1 percent chance of hitting an underground line,” said Muller. “At least once every nine minutes, an underground utility line is damaged in the United States.”
Once 811 is contacted, utilities come out and mark their lines with paint, flags or markers.
“There's all kinds of things in the ground like water lines, there's gas lines, there's sewer lines, there's electric lines, communication, cable TV lines, all kinds of different things," said Muller.
Even after excavators call 811, they still have to follow very specific rules when digging near underground lines.
“The excavators have to follow other rules like the tolerance zone which is two feet on either side of the buried facility,” said Muller. “So, they have to use hand excavation methods to find the exact location and the depth of the underground facility and that way they can carefully uncover it and avoid damage.”
Even a little damage to a gas line can cause a fire or explosion.
In Camby, the IURC sent Call 6 Investigates a photo of the gas line with a small hole.
“Any time the line is punctured, the gas is going to leak out,” said Muller. “Just a tiny pinhole will release gas.”
Historically when IURC finds a violation, two-thirds of the time the excavator or subcontractor is at fault, and one-third of the time it’s the operator or gas utility to blame.
In most instances, when a gas utility is at fault, they did not accurate and timely locate and mark the gas lines.
Homeowners can be on the hook too, if they cause damage while digging for a fence, deck or playground.
“The penalty is, if you hit a regular utility, is you have to pay for the repair for that utility," said Muller.
The Indiana Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against five out-of-state excavators accused of performing work without proper authorization.
Curtis Hill’s office filed suit in Hamilton County on October 16 against Crosier Lane Consulting (Illinois), International, Inc. (Michigan), Nexgen Directional (Illinois), RC Underground (Florida) and RLM Underground (Kansas).
The Attorney General’s actions come after state regulators released a scathing report, criticizing Indiana-based cable and internet provider MetroNet and its subcontractors for hitting gas lines in Hamilton County.
IURC’s Pipeline Safety Division blamed MetroNet’s excavators for 10 of the gas line incidents.
Five of MetroNet’s contractors failed to properly register with the Indiana Secretary of State, records show.