The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) Wednesday adopted new rules to protect the state's 200,000 miles of intrastate pipelines from damage by third parties such as homeowners, contractors, city and state employees and anyone else digging near pipelines.

Texas has more intrastate pipeline miles than any other state, and the No. 1 cause of pipeline accidents is that caused by third parties, the RRC said. The new rules take effect Sept. 1 and address best management practices for operators and excavators and for the first time provide penalties for rule violations.

"In 2004 our agency received 149 reports of third-party pipeline damage," said RRC Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones. "In 2005 that number jumped to 275 reports and in 2006 it jumped even higher to 301 reports, or an average of six incidents each week. Each year these pipeline accidents have increased. The rules adopted today are designed to stop this trend."

The RRC held three public meetings last year to gather input on the proposed rules from operators and contractors as well as other groups that dig near pipelines. Based on the meetings, the new rules incorporate 10 best practices from the national pipeline protection safety organization called the Common Ground Alliance.

Highlights of the rules include:

All of the rules can be viewed under "Underground Pipeline Damage Prevention" at www.rrc.state.tx.us/rules/proposed.html.

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