I-Team: Excavation crews feel the heat of real flames in natural gas training

Wednesday, August 7, 2019
Gas workers get close-up training
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Gas workers get close-up training in Cary.

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Utility workers are known to look down in their job, but on Wednesday, they were looking up.

"I had never seen the flames go up in real life," Juan Negrin, a foreman from Youngsville, told ABC11. "You're seeing the gas, you're seeing the flame. We're about 60 feet away and you could feel the heat."

Negrin joined more than two dozen other contractors at Dominion Energy's campus in Cary for a free safety training offered to professionals who dig around gas lines.

The training is offered every year, but Wednesday's course was the first since the Durham gas explosion which killed two people, including a utility worker.

"When you do this work and you see that -- you know that could've been you," Negrin said. "You know the danger is there but sometimes you get complacent and you go through the motions every day and you don't pay attention. You see this right here and you see we have to do everything on point because we can't have that happen to our guys."

In an earlier ABC11 Investigation, the I-Team reviewed all gas pipeline incidents reported to the Department of Transportation since 1999; the Durham explosion was the first serious incident resulting in fatalities -- a remarkable feat considering the 61,000 miles of pipelines delivering natural gas buried underneath the Tar Heel State (enough to circle the globe twice.)

According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there are nearly 3 million miles of pipeline transporting natural gas to homes across the United States. The gas is a popular source of energy that heats homes and cooks meals.

Data obtained by the I-Team counts 5,705 pipeline incidents in the U.S. since 1999, killing 291 people and injuring 1,267. The incidents, which include leaks, fires and explosions, caused an estimated $9.1 billion in damages.

Utility lines are marked after either a project manager or customer dials 811, a free service paid for by the utility companies to reduce the risk of damage from digging and excavations. The service answered an estimated 2 million calls in 2017, the latest data available; more than 98 percent of crews using the data avoided unexpected contact with the lines or pipes.

VIDEO: How the 811 process works in North Carolina

"Do the right thing, don't take a guess, do the safe thing" Persida Montanez, a spokeswoman for Dominion Energy, says of homeowners calling 811. "There's construction work all around the Triangle so any company building is digging around natural gas and other utility lines."

Dominion's safety course is free and is offered to all professionals, including municipal crews. To learn about the training contact mworth@scana.com. Montanez added that Dominion offers bilingual training for groups with Spanish and English speakers.