Pipeline Safety

There are approximately a dozen pipelines transiting through St Charles County (approximate routes indicated by red and green lines on the map to the right). Their sizes vary from 8 to 30 inches in diameter. The products they carry include: petroleum, natural gas, anhydrous ammonia and other materials. 

To ensure safety, pipeline companies have established inspection procedures that include internal inspections using “pigs” that transmit information on the condition of the line, as well as inspections by ground and by air.



Around the globe each year, there are thousands of incidents of damage to those underground lines. The majority of these incidents are due to unsafe digging. When they occur, these incidents can lead to injuries, fatalities and the disruption of services to an entire community. Individuals responsible can be subject to penalties or fines and may be liable for repair costs or other damages.

Dig Right! Call 8-1-1

It is important that everyone DIG SAFELY by following safe digging practices. All digging projects require calling 811, to reach a one-call center before starting — even small projects like planting trees or shrubs.

By simply making a free call to 8-1-1 (or 1-800-DIG-RITE in Missouri) weeks before your project begins, the one-call center will notify companies that may operate underground utilities in the area. Those companies can then dispatch crews to determine and mark the exact location of their utilities, so that hitting them can be avoided. Please call any time of the year, no matter who you are or how big/small your project may be.

Signs of a Leak or Release

Knowing how to recognize signs of a leak or accidental exposure and understanding what to do are important for your safety and the safety of others. A leak or release can be recognized by:

  • Sight - Liquid pools, discolored or abnormally dry soil/vegetation, continuous bubbling in wet or flooded areas, an oily sheen on water surfaces, vaporous fogs, blowing dirt around a pipeline areas, or fire coming from the ground or near ground areas can all indicate a pipeline leak. Dead or discolored plants in an otherwise healthy area of vegetation or frozen ground in warm weather can be additional signs of an exposed pipeline.
  • Sound - Ranging from a quiet hissing to a loud roar, volume can indicate the size of a leak.
  • Smell - An unusual smell, petroleum odor or gaseous odor will sometimes accompany pipeline leaks. Some companies provide odorant sample cards for nearby businesses and residents to help indicate signs of release gas.
    •  Gas transmission/gas gathering pipelines are odorless, but may contain a hydrocarbon smell.
    •  Gas distribution systems are odorized with the chemical mercaptan or other similar chemicals. Mercaptan is a harmless non-toxic chemical that is added to make it easier to detect a gas leak due to its skunk-like odor.
    •  Highly Volatile Liquids (HVL’s) can be odorless and colorless in their natural state and most are considered irritants to eyes and nose. Commercial odorants are added to many HVLs to assist in detection of a leak.
    •  Landfill gas, which is becoming a popular source of natural gas, has a more pungent and unpleasant odor similar to the smell of rotting garbage.

What to Do If You Find or Suspect a Pipeline Leak?

  1. Turn off gas appliances.
  2. Leave the area by foot immediately. Do not try to locate the source of the odor or leak. Direct other individuals to leave the area. Attempt to find safety upwind of the incident.
  3. After reaching your safe location, call 9-1-1. Then, notify the pipeline company and your local emergency response number, if known. Provide the emergency operator your name, phone number, a brief summary of the incident and the location.

What NOT to Do:

  • DO NOT come into direct contact with any escaping liquids or gases.
  • DO NOT attempt to operate any pipeline valves yourself. You may inadvertently route more product to leak or cause a secondary incident.
  • DO NOT cause any open flame or other potential source of ignition (such as an electrical switch, vehicle ignition, light a match, etc.).
  • DO NOT start motor vehicles, fuel-powered engines or electrical equipment.
  • DO NOT use a telephone or cell phone in the immediate area. If inside a home or business, DO NOT pull plugs from electrical outlets or open an automatic garage system if the vehicle is parked inside.
  • DO NOT ring doorbells to notify others of the incident. Knock with your hand directly on the wood door to avoid potential sparking from metal knockers.
  • DO NOT drive into a leak or vapor cloud when entering or leaving the area.
  • DO NOT attempt to extinguish a natural gas fire. Wait for local firemen and other emergency professionals trained to deal with these emergencies.

Look for pipeline markers (like this one below) that include the type of product being transported, the operating company and an emergency contact number should something go wrong.