About Pipelines

Pipeline Purpose and Reliability

The United States has the largest pipeline network in the world. Pipelines deliver the raw materials that are processed into fuel that powers our lives. There are many types of pipelines through the state of Alabama: crude oil, refined products, liquid petroleum, natural gas, CO2 and many other chemicals as well. The most safe and cost-effective transportation method for these products is through pipelines. Pipeline environmental and safety record statistics show that pipelines are safer than any other means of transportation.

Pipeline operators are subject to many Federal and State regulations, as well as, industry standards. These regulations and standards deal with all phases of pipeline operations. From construction, maintenance and testing to operations; all are intended to ensure the continued safe operation of pipelines.

How to Recognize a Pipeline Marker

Within and along intervals of pipeline ROWs the general location of the buried pipeline(s) is located by pipeline markers. In addition, pipeline markers can be found near waterways, roads and railway crossings. The pipeline marker indicates the company operating the pipeline, the product being transported and the emergency phone number.

How to Recognize a Pipeline Right-of-Way (ROWs)

ROW Pipelines are buried and located in what is called a Right-of-Way. Typically, ROWs are clear of any structures and/or trees and allow access to pipeline operators for maintenance, inspection and testing. In addition, pipeline operators conduct frequent aerial inspections.

How to Respond to Damaging or Disturbing a Pipeline

Pipeline operators have developed and implemented what is called an Integrity Management Plan. An Integrity Management Plan provides a process of assessing and mitigating risks along the pipeline system. In addition, for natural gas pipeline operators, it calls for enhanced protection for High Consequence Areas (HCAs) such as environmentally sensitive areas, urbanized or populated areas and commercial waterways. HCAs for liquid pipeline operators are designated as Unusually Sensitive Areas (USAs). These sites include commercially navigable waterways, highly populated and other populated areas, and primary or alternative drinking water sources, ecological resources, wetlands or areas inhabited by threatened and endangered species.

If a pipeline suffers any level of damage, scratches, scrapes or disturbance during any
digging activity, it could impact the pipeline’s future integrity.

Immediately contact the pipeline operator.

How to Recognize a Pipeline Leak

In the unlikely event of a pipeline leak, typically, one or any combination of these helps you recognize a leak:

  • Sight: You may notice a pool of liquid, a white cloud or fog, discolored plants or grasses, flames or vapors near the pipeline, an oily sheen, or water bubbling without an obvious reason.
  • Sound: You may hear a hissing, roaring or a bubbling sound.
  •  Smell: An unusual odor or scent of gas, petroleum liquids or a slight hydrocarbon smell – natural gas is primarily odorless in gathering and transmission pipelines until the rotten egg smell (mercaptan) is added prior to local distribution. Landfill gas has a distinct odor of its own, which can actually be stronger than the mercaptan and is a more pungent and unpleasant odor. Natural gas liquids may have a strange or unusual smell with a strong petroleum odor. At low concentrations, CO2 is an odorless gas. At higher concentrations, it has a sharp, acidic odor.

How to Respond to a Pipeline Leak


  • By foot… leave the area immediately.
  • Stay upwind.
  • Direct other individuals to leave the area and stay away.
  • Turn off any equipment.
  • Eliminate any ignition source.
  • From a safe location, call 911 and the pipeline operator emergency phone number.

How NOT to Respond to a Pipeline Link


  • Come in contact with the escaping product.
  • Operate any pipeline valves.
  • Start equipment or vehicles.
  • Drive into escaping product.
  • Extinguish any fire