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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Our Underground Infrastructure

This past week, we marked the one-year anniversary of the detrimental Pegasus pipeline breach in Mayflower. The pipeline, owned by a subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil, ruptured and spilled more than 200,000 gallons of heavy crude oil. This oil seeped into a neighborhood subdivision, lake, drainage ditches and a cove near Lake Conway.

Twelve months later, Pegasus remains shut down in Arkansas after spilling about 5,000 barrels of noxious crude and forcing residents from their homes. Whether it will remain closed permanently is uncertain. Exxon officials have told me they will be conducting pressure tests on the pipeline in the coming months. I continue to have concerns, specifically wanting to move the section of pipeline that runs near the Lake Maumelle watershed. Pipelines are a vital part of our nation’s energy infrastructure, but questions linger about the age and viability of Pegasus. The federal government will have the final say on whether or not the pipeline is restarted.

The pipeline break serves as a reminder of the network of infrastructure that exists underground. Too often, we forget about this subterranean web of pipes and wires that help power our homes, vehicles and utilities. And because of that, we see too many cases of unintentional damage, injury and death caused by digs conducted without the right information.

An underground utility line is damaged somewhere in the U.S. every three minutes. Much of this damage is done by homeowners simply working in their own yards or on their own property. Thankfully, that damage can be avoided with a simple, free phone call to 811.

Every April, the Arkansas Public Service Commission, Arkansas One Call and the Common Ground Alliance promote the National Call-Before-You-Dig number. By calling 811 at least 72 hours before any digging is begun, potential excavators and homeowners can request markings for utility-line locations at intended dig sites.

Even small digging jobs, like planting trees and shrubs, should be preceded by a call to 811. Utility companies are happy to help identify where lines are, since avoiding accidents is just as beneficial to them as it is to you. The depth of utility lines varies, and there may be multiple utility lines in a common area. The best visual or practical spot for a tree in your yard could be the most dangerous spot, depending on what’s underground.

Oil-and-gas pipelines, water lines and utility lines are important to our modern way of life. However, whether it’s a major corporation or a family home-improvement project, safety must remain a top priority for all of us. As a State, we can be vigilant in working with federal officials to make sure major pipelines running through Arkansas are operated responsibly. We can keep ourselves and our wallets safe from potentially dangerous accidents at home by simply calling 811 before digging into the ground.