Know, Recognize, Respond

Pipeline Leak Response

Always follow the direction of your local emergency response agencies. Leaks from pipelines are rare, but you should know what to do in the unlikely event one occurs.

When managing an emergency, protecting lives and the environment requires a concerted team effort. Pipeline companies strive to build partnerships with emergency responders and public officials in order to share resources, establish important lines of communication and provide education needed to safely respond to a pipeline related emergency.

What Happens During Pipeline Incident Response?

When a pipeline release is detected, the response chain is initiated by a call to 9-1-1. Pipeline operators, first responders, government authorities, and cleanup resources all spring into action upon notification of an emergency. Evacuation plans are municipality-specific, meaning that they are developed and coordinated by the appropriate local emergency response department.


  • The first priority at any pipeline incident is for the safety of the public, any involved personnel such as third party contractor crews, and the emergency responders.
  • Pipeline operators provide emergency response departments with the proper training and information to ensure a coordinated response.
  • Decisions regarding public evacuations or shelter-in-place can only be ordered by government agencies.
  • Regardless of the type of incident—house fire, flood, pipeline or other, first responders are trained how to help people with different circumstances.
Recognizing A Leak

Natural gas is transported in its gaseous form by pipeline from wells and processing facilities to distribution centers (or distribution pipeline systems). Natural gas is odorless, colorless, tasteless and nontoxic in its natural state. When transported via transmission pipelines, natural gas typically does not have odorant added. An odorant is added when it is delivered to a distribution system.

Natural gas liquids (NGLs) are liquids separated from natural gas and include propane, butane and ethane. These products are commonly used for cooking and heating, and are the building blocks for manufacturing thousands of products we use every day. They are easily liquefied under pressure and normally will not have odorant added when transported via transmission pipelines.

Petroleum liquids is a broad term covering many products, including: crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, fuel oil, and other refined products. Odorant is not added to these products because they have a natural odor.

Indication of a Leak
  • A white vapor cloud that may look like smoke.
  • A hissing or whistling noise.
  • Fire coming out of or on top of the ground.
  • Dust blowing from a hole in the ground.
  • A rainbow sheen on the surface of water.
  • An area of frozen ground in the summer.
  • An unusual area of melted snow in the winter.
  • An area of dead vegetation in an otherwise green area.
  • Continuous bubbling in pools of water.
  • Petroleum product pooling on the ground.
  • An unusual smell or gaseous odor.


Responding to a Leak
  • Leave the area immediately, on foot, if possible, in an uphill, upwind direction. Follow direction of local emergency response agencies.
  • Abandon any equipment being used in or near the area.
  • Avoid any open flame or other sources of ignition.
  • Warn others to stay away.
  • From a safe location, call 911 or local emergency response agencies.
  • Notify the pipeline company immediately.
  • Do not attempt to extinguish a pipeline fire.
  • Do not attempt to operate pipeline valves.

Even seemingly minor damage, such as a dent or chipped pipeline coating, could result in a future leak if not promptly repaired. If you should happen to strike the pipeline while working in the area, it is important that you phone the control center immediately.