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Four and a Half Minutes to Keep Your Farm Safe

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
August 2, 2017        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Four and a Half Minutes to Keep Your Farm Safe
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (07/27/2017) — Have you ever heard of the Pipeline Ag Safety Alliance?  They are an organization dedicated to preventing damage to buried pipelines through education and improved communication.

Did you know there are over 2.6 million miles of pipeline in the United States today?  Currently, there is over half a million of additional pipeline in planning, permitting, or construction.  The majority of U.S. pipelines are used for gas transmission and hazardous liquids.  With so much pipeline buried around the country, it’s no wonder that a large majority ends up near or on farmland. 

Have you ever heard of calling 811, or the catchphrase, “Call Before You Dig”?  Recently, a survey of farmers with pipelines on their land was conducted, and the results showed that only 18% of those farmers had ever called 811 before digging.  18% is not a lot, especially when you consider how dangerous pipelines can be.  Pipelines carry explosive materials, and if you hit one while digging you could be liable for damages.  Not to mention the risk of injury or even death from hitting a pipeline.  So, why wouldn’t you call 811?

Calling 811 is completely FREE.  When you dial 811, you will be connected to your local One Call Center--in Minnesota, it is the Gopher State One Call Center.  If you have a smartphone, you can download the FREE Gopher State One Call application.  The only information you need is the location of where you will be digging.  The One-Call Center will notify all affected facility operators, and the approximate location of pipelines and cables in the excavation area will be marked within 2-3 days. 

How does this work?  Call 811 two or three business days before undertaking a soil-disturbing project. When you call, include the following details:
• descriptions of the type of work you will be doing and the area you will be excavating
• the date and time that you will begin excavating
• the street address of your work site, the road on which the work site is located, and the nearest intersection
• driving directions to or GPS coordinates for the work site

Within two or three business days, professional locators will mark underground utilities. These personnel will mark pipelines with yellow flags or paint so that you can conduct your work around them, saving yourself from potential damage or injury.

What activity constitutes needing to call 811?  There is an exemption from calling for “normal” farming activities, so make sure you know the difference between farming and excavating.  Farming activities include plowing, planting, cultivating, and harvesting at depths of less than 18 inches.  Excavating activities include fence building, tiling, terracing, grading or contouring, deep tilling, soil sampling, tree and stump removal, clearing or grubbing, ditch cleaning, trenching, and augering.   If you doing any of these excavation projects, you need to Call Before You Dig.  If you aren’t sure if your activity counts as “excavating,” you should still call 811.

While most pipelines are buried at depths of greater than 18 inches, keep in mind that pipeline depth can change over time due to erosion, previous digging projects, contouring, and other factors.  Even slight contact with a pipeline can cause damage.  Pipelines have a protective coating that if scratched, nicked, or scraped can cause future incidents.  If a farmer makes any contact with a pipeline they must call the pipeline operator.  Pipeline operators can be contacted by phone or email if you have any questions.  Specific contact information can be found on printed materials and company websites. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that a pipeline representative must be present whenever digging occurs in a pipeline right-of-way, or ROW.  A pipeline right of way is a strip of land usually between 60 and 120 feet wide, containing one or more pipelines. The ROW allows pipeline workers access for inspection, maintenance, testing or in an emergency.  It also identifies an area where certain activities are prohibited to protect public safety and the integrity of the pipeline.  Pipeline rights-of-way should be kept free of trees and permanent structures so workers can gain access. For this reason, activities such as paving, building permanent or temporary structures, and planting deep-rooted shrubs and trees are not allowed on the right-of-way.

According to the Pipeline Ag Safety Alliance, the average call to 811 takes 4 and a half minutes, versus the average 4 and a half days work could be delayed if you hit a pipeline while digging.  Pipeline indicators placed by a utility do not clearly mark the exact location of a pipeline, so do not depend on those.  The only way to be sure of a pipeline’s location is to call 811 and get it marked. 

Pipelines allow easy transport of gas and other hazardous liquids, but it’s important that we respect where these pipelines are in order to keep ourselves--and our farms--safe.  As one pipeline safety group puts it, “It took years to make it a farm...and it takes one call to keep it safe.”  When you call 811 before digging, you reduce the chance of causing damage to less than 1%.  Remember Call Before You Dig--it is completely free and will help keep you safe. 

For additional information about buried pipelines and the free calling center, visit or


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169