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7% increase in oil and gas pipelines incidents in UK

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Pipelines,

In 2021, landowners were the most likely cause of damage to oil and gas pipelines in the UK. Of the 314 incidents recorded in 2021, 167 were caused by landowners, a 7% increase on the previous year. Contractors were also a cause for concern, with 23% of infringements caused by contractors across all industries.

Overall, there was a 24% increase in infringements on the year before, according to Linewatch, the leading pipeline safety and awareness group. In its 2021 Infringement Report, Linewatch suggests this increase is the result of an improvement in reporting, rather than an actual increase in incidents.

Murray Peat, Manager at Linewatch, explains: “It’s encouraging to see data entries from new members in 2021, and from some who have been reluctant to report their incidents in the past. Although it means the overall number of infringements has increased, we know that this wider and more transparent reporting is a good thing for the long-term security of the pipelines, and those involved in digging works near them.

“It’s thanks to more of our members promptly reporting any infringement or ‘near-miss’ that we can identify trends and problem areas – the dangerous activities, companies posing the biggest threats and even the geographical ‘hotspots’. Armed with such insights we can then raise awareness, better educate those at risk, and prevent incidents, rather than simply react to them.”

An infringement can be someone simply working near an oil, gas or chemical pipeline without the owner’s awareness and permission, through to a worker actually striking a pipe.

The Linewatch Report suggests that 30% of infringements occurred even though the person responsible for the incident was already aware of the pipeline’s existence. This is troubling as it highlights a casualness, in some quarters, about the actual danger when working near pipelines.

Murray Peat is concerned by this: “Pipelines can be buried as little as three feet below the surface, which is about the length of a cricket bat. If struck, they can cause serious damage to the pipelines, as well as injuries, fatalities and irreversible environmental damage with commensurate fines. The potential risk cannot be over-estimated. Which is why the proper process of searching with LSBUD before digging and of course, alerting the pipeline operator, should be followed every time.”

Fencing was the most common danger activity, making up 25% of all reports. This was followed by excavation for service, which refers to any work undertaken to install new services including telecoms, gas, and water supply, then ditching and installation of structure, which was responsible for three high-risk infringements.

The numbers of near misses involving contractors and developers remained static across 2021, whilst utilities and highways works were the only category to experience a decrease in infringements.

In terms of severity, of all incidents recorded, 11 were deemed as ‘high’ category. This refers to works that had potential to cause serious damage. This is an increase on the previous year, but with more members reporting, and therefore more data gathered, it is something to take note of, but is not wholly unsurprising. ‘Medium’ and ‘low’ risk incidents also increased in 2021.

When it comes to the timings of these infringements, the first and fourth quarters recorded peak activity, which correlates with increased seasonal work by farmers and the end of tax year, when organisations often use up their remaining budget or begin new projects.

Murray Peat, Manager at Linewatch, concludes: “With a significant increase in digging taking place post-pandemic, and no signs of this slowing down as the government seeks to kick start the UK economy through significant investment in large-scale infrastructure, it is more important than ever that the correct digging procedures are followed.”

As well as producing the Infringement Report, and promoting the awareness of safe digging, Linewatch advises those involved in digging works across the UK. During 2021, Linewatch delivered 117 free safety awareness briefings to organisations around the UK. It produced several new educational videos to highlight best practice when planning and undertaking works around pipelines alongside an eLearning module created in collaboration with LSBUD, titled ‘An introduction to Safe Digging’.

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