Major Gas Leak – Victoria’s worst incident of a pipe being damaged in 2016

Posted by | 0 comments

Major Gas Leak | The scene of the excavator, after it had hit the gas transmission pipeline. | Pic credit - Jason Sammon

Major Gas Leak | The scene of the excavator, after it had hit the gas transmission pipeline. | Pic credit – Jason Sammon

There are gas pipeline damages… and there are GAS PIPELINE DAMAGES.

Those of you who follow my blog posts and social media updates will have heard me talk about gas pipes being damaged many times before. You will have heard me say that pretty much every day there are gas pipes being ripped out of the ground by excavator operators who are either incompetent, careless or reckless.

Most of the time if they are small pipes, they get fixed and no one knows any different. Other times, if they are bigger pipes, or if they’re on a main road or in a school, then they hit the headlines.

Well, today’s damaged gas pipe is not on a main road; it’s not in a school; no-one has been hurt. However, it’s not a small pipe either. In fact, it’s a gas transmission pipeline –  which is as big as it gets—it has the highest pressure of any gas pipeline you can get.

The works were taking place at the $16m Arthur’s Seat chairlift redevelopment. Early this morning an excavator hit and damaged the pipe, causing it to leak.

According to APA Group, the gas network for the area has not been shut off as yet. However, they’ve asked residents in the area to restrict their use of gas for hot water and for heating.

Aerial shot of firefighters attending the scene of the damaged gas transmission pipeline | Pic credit - Channel 7

Aerial shot of firefighters attending the scene of the damaged gas transmission pipeline | Pic credit – Channel 7

Firefighters from Dromana, Hallam, Peninsula, Red Hill and Rosebud were all called in, as well as an operational wagon to co-ordinate the scene.

 

Roads closed off and up to 40 people evacuated from the area. | Aerial shot from Channel 7 helicopter | Pic credit - Channel 7

Roads closed off and up to 40 people evacuated from the area. | Aerial shot from Channel 7 helicoper |

Police and firefighters door-knocked the area, and a blanket community notice went out to the whole of the Peninsula—taking in Dromana, McCrae, Boneo, Rosebud West, Rye, Blairgowire, Sorrento and Portsea

 

The incident that caused the major gas leak

Now, as we are based on the other side of the bay, we don’t get many jobs in the Arthur’s Seat area and we only get a few jobs a year on the Mornington Peninsula. The furthest we generally go is Dandenong and Frankston. So I personally don’t know at this stage what happened on this site for this incident to occur.

However, what we do know is that there must have been a catastrophic failure—because of all the utilities that are underground, transmission pipelines are one of the most protected, well marked and locatable pipelines there are.

 

What are transmission gas pipelines?

Generally speaking, three lots of gas pipelines are underground. You have the individual services that go from your house meter to the gas main in the street. There are the gas mains, that go up and down most of the streets of Melbourne. And then you have the gas transmission pipelines, that travel from town to town.

APA Group, who look after the gas transmission lines, do an excellent job when it comes to protecting their underground assets from being damaged by construction works.

Some of the ways they go about this include:

  • having an inspector drive along the route of each and every pipeline, making sure no-one is working in or around it without a permit;
  • having a permit system, so you’re not allowed to do any works in the vicinity unless it has been approved by APA;
  • if you’re working near a pipeline and have a permit, then they’ll often have an inspector on site watching over the works, to make sure you stay within the permit’s requirements and check that the pipe is not in any danger of being damaged;
  • they offer free locations, so if you think you might be working in the area of a pipeline, they’ll come out and locate the pipe for you so that you will know if you’re going to be close to it or not; and
  • they phone up every single person who puts a Dial Before You Dig request in that says they are doing works in or around a pipeline location.

So when you look at what they do compared to the other utility companies with underground assets, you have to admit they really do go above and beyond what is the norm these days from an asset owner.

………which kind of makes it even more frustrating that this pipe got damaged today.

 

Learning from this major gas leak incident

As I mentioned earlier I still don’t know what exactly happened here, so working out what learnings can be made from it is hard to do. But I think I can make some educated assumptions. And also I think for those of you in the construction industry, it’s good to look at another construction crew’s incident and see what went wrong, so you can learn from their mistakes and not make the same ones yourself.

 

Screenshot of Google Maps, street view. Which shows the area of works back in 2010, in which you can see the gas marker post and a rough estimate of where the gas transmission pipeline was actually hit and damaged.

Screenshot of Google Maps, street view. Which shows the area of works back in 2010, in which you can see the gas marker post and a rough estimate of where the gas transmission pipeline was actually hit and damaged.

 

So let’s eliminate the obvious one from the start—the Dial Before You Dig plan. In 2016, there wouldn’t be a person working in the construction industry in Victoria—or, hey, even in Australia—that won’t have heard about Dial Before You Dig. So let’s just assume they went through them.

Now, getting the DBYD plans is one thing but reading them and letting everyone on the job site know what’s listed on them is another thing. I still go on sites today where the office manager has put in a request for DBYD plans and has got them all in his office: he’s told his guys to start digging on site and they haven’t seen the plans. So the learning here is, if you’re the one digging or assisting with the digging at all, make sure you read over the plans and understand them.

Admittedly, you do get a lot of paperwork back from Dial Before You Dig and some people can get a bit lost reading through it all. But on the plans for this job site—especially on the gas plans—it actually states that there is a gas transmission pipeline in the area.

In fact, they go as far to say there are “Critical Gas Assets” in the vicinity. So we know the pipeline that was hit was definitely listed on the DBYD plans.

 

Extract taken from APA Group's Dial Before You Dig plans, that states there is a critical asset in the area.

Extract taken from APA Group’s Dial Before You Dig plans, that states there is a critical asset in the area.


As these works have been on going for some time, we can assume that an inspector would have seen the site and would have confirmed that they had a permit to work in the vicinity of the pipeline.

So what went wrong?

I’m thinking it came down to the permit to work. I reckon someone either did not read it correctly or just chose to take a shortcut and not follow the instructions on it.

Now I should state that, as it’s a major gas pipeline, it is actually covered under the Pipelines Act 2005. To get specific it’s covered by Section 118, Digging near pipelines and Section 119, Interference with pipeline.

 

Pipelines Act 2005 - Section 118, Digging near pipelines

Pipelines Act 2005 – Section 118, Digging near pipelines

So, yes, APA may be very strict with what you can and can’t do but they are perfectly entitled to put any rules they want in place in order to protect their pipe from being damaged.


What would we have done?

It’s one thing for me to say all this, but what if they didn’t have a permit from APA group, or if an inspector has never driven past, or what if they didn’t even have Dial Before You Dig plans?

Well, this could have all still been avoided by simply calling out a Dial Before You Dig certified locator.

 

Starting to get dark, and the gas transmission pipeline still hasn't been fixed. Looks like workers will have to work throughout the night, to make the area safe again. | Pic credit - The Rye Fire Brigade

Starting to get dark, and the gas transmission pipeline still hasn’t been fixed. Looks like workers will have to work throughout the night, to make the area safe again. | Pic credit – The Rye Fire Brigade

 

Let’s say I was called out to the site. I’d walk over the area of works with the client, to get a good understanding of the works he was doing and where his excavation works were happening—and then I’d look over the Dial Before You Dig plans that we would have requested ourselves for the site and check what was on there.

Within 30 minutes of arriving onsite, I would have seen that there is a gas transmission pipeline in the area of works and would have made sure the client had obtained all the permits required. And if not, then we would have guided him through the process.

I am not alone in this—there are several Dial Before You Dig certified locators in Victoria now, and all of them would have the experience, training and knowledge to know they should do the same.

For those of you who didn’t see my post last month on how to know which locating company you should choose, then it’s probably a good post to read to give you some insights. And no—it is not an ad for Geelong Cable Locations!

 

Conclusion

The incident occurred this morning and it wasn’t until 10:30pm tonight that the pipe actually got fixed. But even then the CFA were still going to monitor the situation until all the gas in the area had dissipated.

 

Working hard to fix the damaged gas pipeline that got damaged early this morning. | Pic credit - Main Ridge Fire Brigade

Working hard to fix the damaged gas pipeline that got damaged early this morning. | Pic credit – Main Ridge Fire Brigade


So now that it’s all over, I guess that if we have to look at this incident, then we should really look at it from a ‘glass half-full’ point of view.

Yes, it was bad that it was damaged. Yes, it was bad that the Mornington Peninsula had to go on restricted gas use. Yes, this all could have been avoided. But, hey—it could have all been a lot, lot worse. Take a look at this damaged pipe we posted last year, a transmission pipeline that got hit by a bulldozer. We should be thanking our lucky stars that no-one got seriously hurt—or worse—on this incident.

 

Other posts about damaged gas pipes that you may find interesting