PHMSA: Stakeholder Communications | Pipeline Basics
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Pipeline Basics

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

Gas line construction

The energy transportation network of the United States consists of over 2.5 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. For more detailed information on pipeline mileage in the U.S. see PHMSA’s Pipeline Mileage and Facilities page.

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!

Right of Way

Most hazardous liquid and 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

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. They transport fuels and petrochemical feedstocks that we use in cooking and cleaning, in our daily commutes and travel, in heating our homes and businesses, and in manufacturing hundreds of products we use daily.

Alaska pipeline

Natural gas provides for nearly 25% of our country’s total energy consumption, and petroleum provides for nearly 40%. This requires the transportation of huge volumes of hazardous liquids and gas, and the most feasible, most reliable and safest way to do so is through pipelines.

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

Natural Gas Pipeline Systems: From the wellhead to the consumer

Petroleum Pipeline Systems: From the wellhead to the consumer

Basics of gas and oil exploration

Technologies of gas and oil exploration

Early days of the oil industry

Pipeline construction