Call before you clear: Union Gas

Duane Hicks

Union Gas is directing plumbers and municipalities to call “Ontario One Call” for a free sewer safety inspection prior to using motorized or water-jetting tools to clear a sewer blockage.
Duane Harris, regional utility manager for Union Gas Ltd., spoke to council Monday night about the company’s utility cross bore safety program.
Trenchless technology, which is used to install plastic pipe in the ground without digging up earth, has been used since the early ’80s.
The problem, explained Harris, is sewer lines traditionally are difficult to locate due to their non-metallic nature (some old pipes are made of clay), lack of tracer wire, and poor records.
And in some places, utility lines installed using trenchless tunnelling methods inadvertently have intersected sewer service lines and remain undetected for years.
This is referred to as a “cross bore.”
A cross bore doesn’t pose a safety risk on its own, but it becomes one if the natural gas line is damaged.
Such damage can occur when equipment is used to clear a blocked sewer where a cross bore has occurred.
For example, rotating equipment such as sewer snakes easily can cut into plastic natural gas lines while pressurised water-jetting equipment can pierce or erode them.
On the other hand, non-rotating or sewer/drain clearing equipment such as fish tape or non-rotating rodders pose little risk to plastic natural gas lines.
In recent years, there have been 25 sewer cross bore incidents reported in the U.S., some of which resulted in homes destroyed, as well as injuries and fatalities, Harris noted.
In December, 2011, for instance, a Chicago home owner used a power-rodder on a sewer line and struck a gas line, got stuck in it, and the home owner gave up.
The house filled with gas from a slow leak and the next morning, when the home owner turned on the power-rodder, the spark caused an ignition and an explosion ensued.
This not only put the home owner in hospital in serious condition, but displaced three other families from their homes.
Spurred on by these serious incidents, Union Gas developed its cross bore safety program.
How it works is like this:
•When a sewer blockage is experienced, the plumber who responds to the call or the town must call Ontario One Call before using tools to clear the blockage (the number is 1-800-400-2255).
•Ontario One Call will contact a Union Gas representative.
•Union Gas will locate the sewer line and any nearby gas lines, identify the cause of the blockage, and determine if it is safe to clear the blockage or if there is a cross bore.
•If necessary, the site will be excavated and the sewer cross bore will be remediated.
In addition, Union Gas has developed a new installation program, with set procedures to ensure new cross bores are not created using trenchless technology.
It also has been undertaking an education and awareness program with municipalities, industry partners (i.e., plumbers, sewer companies, and rental companies), and the public (homeowners, businesses, and institutions).
Part of this campaign has included the distribution of sewer safety tags to homeowners and companies who rent sewer-clearing equipment.
These tags serve as a reminder that before clearing any sewer blockages, call Ontario One Call.
Operations and Facilities manger Doug Brown said Union Gas has been called six times to come and check out blockages, noting the process sometimes can take two-three hours before you can get your sewer unplugged.
But he admitted this is a new protocol and is done for the sake of everyone’s safety.
“We have a really good record now,” said Harris.
“We don’t want to go to the other side as far as having somebody hurt,” he stressed.
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