Pipeline Safety Update

The Role of Energy Pipelines in Our Society


What are pipelines? Where are they? And why do we need them in the first place? Those are good, basic questions.

The energy transportation network of the United States consists of over 2.6 million miles of pipelines. That's enough to circle the earth about 100 times. These pipelines are operated by approximately 3,000 companies, large and small.

Based on data generated from annual reports to PHMSA from pipeline operators (1), the network includes approximately:

  • 175,000 miles of onshore and offshore Hazardous Liquid pipeline;
  • 321,000 miles of onshore and offshore Gas Transmission and Gathering pipelines;
  • 2,066,000 miles of Natural Gas Distribution mains and service pipelines;
  • 114 active LNG Plants connected to our natural gas transmission and distribution systems; and
  • Propane Distribution System pipelines.

Although pipelines exist in all fifty states, most of us are unaware that this vast network even exists. This is due to the strong safety record of pipelines and the fact that most of them are located underground. Installing pipelines underground protects them from damage and helps protect our communities as well.

Where Are They?

Most hazardous liquid and gas pipelines are buried underground. To ensure your safety and avoid damaging underground lines, you must call your state one-call center before digging. Call Before you Dig!

Most hazardous liquid and natural gas transmission pipelines are located underground in rights-of-way (ROW). A ROW consists of consecutive property easements acquired by, or granted to, the pipeline company. The ROW provides sufficient space to perform pipeline maintenance and inspections, as well as a clear zone where encroachments can be monitored and prevented. ROW Briefing.

To find out if a transmission pipeline is located near you, you can visit the National Pipeline Mapping System (npms) and search by your county or zip code.

Pipeline operators are required to post brightly-colored markers along their ROW to indicate the presence of – but not necessarily the exact location of – their underground pipelines. Markers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They contain information about the nearby pipeline as well as emergency contact information for the company that operates it. Pipeline Markers Briefing

Natural gas distribution systems consist of distribution main lines and service lines. Distribution main lines are generally installed in underground utility easements alongside streets and highways. Distribution service lines run from the distribution main line into homes or businesses. Distribution main and service lines are not generally indicated by above-ground markers. To ensure safety and avoid damaging underground lines, anyone planning to dig or excavate is required by law to contact their state One-Call center 48 to 72 hours before digging. Call Before You Dig!

Why Do We Need Them?

Pipelines play a vital role in our daily lives. Cooking and cleaning, the daily commute, air travel and the heating of homes and businesses are all made possible by the readily available fuels delivered through pipelines. Click here to see a list of products transported through pipelines. More...

These routine activities really add up, in terms of energy use. Natural gas provides for fully 24% of our country’s total energy consumption, and petroleum provides for another 39%.

Because such huge volumes of hazardous liquid and natural gas must be transported, the only feasible way to do so is through pipelines. Pipelines do not crowd our highways and waterways as trucks and barges would, nor do they contribute to traffic congestion or highway accidents.

Pipelines, in short, are practical and safe.

Here is more information about pipelines that you may find interesting:

Sources: PHMSA Calendar Year 2009 Annual Reports for Gas Transmission and Gathering, Gas Distribution and Hazardous Liquid; PHMSA Calendar Year 2009 npms submissions for LNG Plants.