Jeremy Hobbs, East Tennessee Natural Gas

Have you ever worked a job on or near a natural gas pipeline? Did you know there are extra steps to take to complete your job safely within these pipeline rights-of-way?

Unlike natural gas distribution systems, transmission pipeline operators are regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which means additional precautions are required when working around these vital resources. I had the opportunity to sit down with Pipeliner Jeremy Hobbs from East Tennessee Natural Gas (ETNG), an Enbridge-owned pipeline, to discuss what to plan for when working in their pipeline right-of-way.

Jeremy has been with ETNG for 3 years and, as a pipeliner, Jeremy is responsible for more than just locating and marking the pipeline. His duties include leak surveys, equipment inspections and helping to maintain a compressor station. On any given day he must balance his responsibilities to ensure that everything is in compliance and all the bases are covered. Speaking on the importance of the pipeline itself and the compressor stations, Jeremy says, “They support each other, and you can’t have one without the other. Our pipeline is a tremendous asset and we have to take care of it.”

Focusing in on one of Jeremy’s responsibilities, we took some time to talk specifically about locating the pipeline and the necessary steps needed to protect this asset when contractors are doing work on or near the right-of-way. Every pipeline runs within a protected area of land called a right-of-way. Rights-of-way vary in width depending on the size of the pipe, its pressure, what’s being carried, EPA guidelines for the area and several other factors, but they’re typically 25 to 150 feet wide and sometimes even larger. If you are going to be doing work near this pipeline right-of-way, you can expect to be contacted by the pipeline owner to discuss your project and how it could affect the pipeline. Jeremy says the first step, once he receives a locate request, is to call the person who called in the ticket. If he is unable to reach them by telephone, he will send an email to the address listed on the ticket, which illustrates the importance of having good contact information on the locate request you submit to our contact center.

Once contact has been made, Jeremy likes to meet on site to discuss the project and the responsibilities of the contractor while working near the pipeline right-of-way. In our conversation, I asked Jeremy why it is so important for the contractor to respond to his request to be onsite. He says the number one reason is public safety, “That’s probably my biggest priority in my position.” There will be a representative of the pipeline company on site during the entirety of work being done and there are specific techniques required when digging on top of or across the pipeline. No mechanical equipment is allowed within the tolerance zone, defined as a strip of land at least four feet wide, but not wider than the width of the utility plus two feet on either side. If using a backhoe, it must be a smooth bucket or the teeth have to be barred, and no side cutters. You are also required to set up parallel to the pipeline to reduce risk of hooking the pipeline. These requirements could change depending on the pipeline operator or type of work being done.

Another part of protecting the pipeline is patrolling and monitoring for unauthorized digging. Besides aerial patrol and other methods of monitoring, Jeremy relies on landowners along the pipeline to notify him of anybody digging without an ETNG representative on site. “We have an incredible responsibility to operate our equipment in a safe manner,” Jeremy said, “because we don’t just run through the middle of the field, we are in people’s yards, parking lots, etc.” I asked Jeremy what happens if someone digs within the pipeline right-of-way without notifying 811 prior to excavation, and he says they will be turned into the enforcement board at the state level and could also be subject to penalties at the federal level.

I asked Jeremy what some of the biggest challenges are in locating pipelines. He said overhead lines, terrain, and limited connection points (sometimes a mile or more apart) can cause difficulty in locating, but he appreciates his job despite these challenges. “I wish I would have found out about this job 20 years ago,” he says. “One day I might be locating through a crowded intersection or putting up marker posts on top of a mountain. Of all the jobs I’ve ever had, being a pipeliner for ETNG is my dream job. It’s challenging, exciting and rewarding and I look forward to it every day.”

Jeremy, the team at TN811 is grateful for the opportunity to recognize and thank you for all you do to protect your pipeline and the people who live and work nearby.

Want to recommend a locator for the next spotlight? Email jkouba@tennessee811.com