Responding to an Emergency
If you are an emergency responder or public official, take steps to safeguard the public in the event of a pipeline emergency. The following suggestions are offered as a guide:
- Upon the first indication gas is involved in an emergency - Notify CenterPoint Energy as quickly as possible. Pipeline marker signs show the pipeline company's name, emergency telephone number and pipeline contents.
- Secure the area around the emergency site to a safe distance considering wind and migration of natural gas. Control access and entry to the emergency site. It may be necessary to evacuate the public or have the public shelter in place depending on the situation. If necessary, Evacuate people upwind and to a safe distance from the emergency site.
- Take steps to prevent ignition by prohibiting smoking, rerouting traffic, shutting off the electricity, and starting or turning off electrical equipment (cell phones, pagers, two-way radios, lights).
- If the pipeline is burning, try to prevent the spread of fire but do not attempt to extinguish it. If the fire is extinguished, gas or vapor will collect and could explode when reignited by secondary fires.
- Establish a command center. Work with pipeline representatives as you develop a plan to address the emergency. CenterPoint Energy personnel are trained to work with the fire department’s Incident Command System.
CenterPoint Energy's Actions During an Emergency
We will immediately dispatch personnel to the site to help handle the emergency and provide information to public safety officials to aid in their response. We will also take the necessary operating actions to restrict the flow of gas and minimize the impact of the emergency. Public safety personnel and other unauthorized personnel should not attempt to operate any of the valves on the pipeline. Improper operation of the pipeline valves could make the situation worse and cause other accidents to happen.
Incident Command System
CenterPoint Energy personnel are trained to work within the Unified Incident Command System. Our qualified personnel are trained in emergency response activities and regularly receive refresher training reflecting various types of response levels and emergency scenarios.
Natural Gas Do’s:
- Protect life then property
- Notify CenterPoint Energy immediately
- Treat all gas leaks as potentially hazardous
- Control all potential ignition sources
- Evacuate structures as needed
- Secure affected areas
- Use only properly calibrated detection equipment
- Always anticipate and expect that an explosion could occur
- Use only intrinsically-safe equipment, such as, communications and other electrically-operated equipment
Natural Gas Don’ts:
- Don’t park over, in front of or downwind of emergency locations
- Don’t park over manhole, valve covers, storm drains or too close to structures
- Don’t use open flames (flares, smoking, other sources)
- Don’t operate any in-ground, underground or above ground valves
- Don’t operate any potential ignition sources (doorbells, light switches, pagers, cell phones, radios)
- Don’t turn off venting relief valves
- Don’t extinguish gas fires until fuel sources have been secured and shutoff
- Don’t shut off gas service to industrial facilities without knowledge of its effect
- Don’t attempt to make repairs to gas facilities
- Don’t ventilate structures with non-intrinsically safe fans/blowers
The 5 Basic Natural Gas Emergency Situations:
- Gas Escaping Outside – Control ignition sources.
- Gas Burning Outside – Let it burn! Burning will not explode!
- Gas Escaping Inside – Do not operate electrical switches.
- Gas Burning Inside - Shut the gas valve off at the meter and leave it off.
- A Blowing Relief Valve – Let it blow but call the gas company.
Recognizing a Pipeline Emergency
The best way to recognize a pipeline leak is by using your eyes, ears and nose.
Look – Persistent bubbling in standing water or discolored vegetation are signs of a possible leak around the pipeline area. A pool of liquid on the ground; a dense white cloud or fog; a slight mist of ice; or unexplained frozen ground near the pipeline are also signs of a possible leak.
Listen – Listen for any unusual noise like a hissing or roaring sound.
Smell – Notice any strange or unusual odor (the products will have a petroleum odor or smell like rotten eggs).
Some gases are odorless, and odorant cannot always be added. It is important to use your ears and eyes as well as your nose to recognize a potential problem.
On occasion, a pressure-relieving device may activate at an aboveground pipeline facility. These devices are acting as designed to relieve pressure on the system to prevent over pressurization.
Under no circumstances should a pressure relieving device be capped or turned-off.
Carbon Monoxide Emergencies:
- Site Clues include: Condensation on windows and burning eyes upon entering premises; CO monitor alarming
- Exposure Symptoms: Headache or breathing difficulty
Natural Gas Characteristics:
- Is lighter than air
- Is not toxic
- Is odorless in its natural state
- Treated gas smells like rotten eggs
- Natural Gas should not be confused with Propane which is heavier than air
- The Explosive or Burning Range is 5% to 15% Gas to Air Mixture
- View Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) for more information
- Pipelines carry both gaseous and liquid materials under high pressure.
- Many liquids form gaseous vapor clouds when released into the air.
- Many pipelines contain colorless and odorless products.
- Some gases are lighter than air and will rise.
- Other heavier-than-air gases and liquids will stay near the ground and collect in low spots.
- All petroleum gases and liquids are flammable.
- Any pipeline leak can be potentially dangerous.
CenterPoint Energy Products and Hazard Information
- Natural Gas
- Liquefied natural gas
Since most pipelines are buried underground, pipeline markers are used to indicate their approximate location along the route. They cannot be relied upon to indicate the exact position of the pipeline. The markers can be found where a pipeline intersects a street, highway or railway. It is a federal crime to damage, remove or destroy a pipeline marker. The markers display the material transported in the line, the name of the pipeline operator, and a telephone number where the operator can be reached in the event of an emergency. You may obtain access to view maps of CenterPoint Energy’s transmission pipeline facilities by visiting https://www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov/
Local distribution pipelines are not typically identified with pipeline markers. A call to 811 will help identify the location of these pipelines.
Pipeline Marker - This marker is the most commonly seen. It contains operator information, type of product, and an emergency contact number.
Aerial Marker - These skyway facing markers are used by patrol planes that monitor pipeline ROW.
Casing Vent Marker - This marker indicates that a pipeline (protected by a steel outer casing) pases beneath a nearby roadway, rail line or other crossing. Sometimes overflow of product may be seen.
Additional Training Material
CenterPoint Energy would like to remind local emergency responders of the easily accessible and free training material available for their use at www.pipelineemergencies.com. Pipeline Emergencies offers a comprehensive emergency response training program designed to teach emergency responders and pipeline industry personnel to safely respond to pipeline incidents. The second edition offers several improvements over the first edition, including a completely electronic format with embedded videos and new material on highly volatile liquid and ethanol emergencies. All revisions, as well as the original program, were developed with input from the fire service, the pipeline industry, and PHMSA.
Again, the electronic edition of Pipeline Emergencies is available free of charge on the internet at http:/www.pipelineemergencies.com. Users must create an account to access the curriculum, however, registration is simple, free, and users have unlimited access to it after registering. Pipeline Emergencies can be printed directly from the website, but it cannot be downloaded.
National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) has also developed an iPhone app entitled Pipeline Emergencies that is available free of charge through the Apple Store. Using the app, an emergency responder will have the same functionality as if they were accessing the materials at www.pipelineemergencies.com.
Additional Pipeline Resources and Information
- Pipeline 101 - www.pipeline101.com
- Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) - www.aopl.org
- American Petroleum Institute (API) - www.api.org
- In the Pipe - Newsletter from the Oil Pipeline Industry - www.enewsbuilder.net/aopl/
- Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) - www.ingaa.org
- American Gas Association (AGA) - www.aga.org
- 811- Know What's Below, Call Before You Dig - www.call811.com
- Common Ground Alliance (CGA) - www.commongroundalliance.com
- Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) - www.phmsa.dot.gov
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – www.nfpa.org
Customer Service 713-659-2111 or 800-752-8036
Leak emergency 713-659-2111 or 888-876-5786