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Spatially Speaking
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Mapping Pipelines & Underground Infrastructure: Enhancing Accuracy and Safety
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It is said that the pipelines in the United States could encircle the Earth 25 times. The American Public Works Association estimates that an underground utility line is hit somewhere in the United States every 60 seconds.

At a recent hearing on pipeline safety, Commerce Committee Chairman Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said:

"They crisscross underneath our cities and country sides, yet most of the time we are not even aware they are there. They deliver critical fuel that powers our homes, factories, and offices, and also transport the oil and gas that keep our cars, trucks, and planes operating…Compared to other forms of transportation, pipelines are a relatively safe, clean and efficient way of transporting the goods they carry. Unfortunately, this is not always the case…Lack of records about older pipelines is a real problem and contributed to a catastrophic pipeline explosion in California that killed several people.”

Federal officials, transportation designers, telecom, and utilities and pipeline operators, as well as local government, need accurate location information to manage existing underground infrastructure and plan for future growth and development. Surveys and maps of underground utilities are often inaccurate. In many cases, they don’t even exist. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other authorities often cite the lack of location data as a factor in pipeline accidents. The inaccuracy of location data, unmarked utilities, and crowding within rights of way are major factors contributing to disruption to underground infrastructure. Digging, drilling or excavating in the vicinity of unknown, unmarked, unmapped, or incorrectly located utilities can be costly in terms of wasted excavation time, service disruption and utility downtime, environmental damage, and - worst of all - personal injury or loss of life.

As recently as January 2013, the Government Accountability Office released a study (GAO-13-168) on pipeline safety urging "better data” with an emphasis on "location”, "proximity” and "topography.”

Congress should investigate the problem of underground infrastructure location and enhance public safety, environmental protection and the economy by strengthening Federal law on accurate location (surveying and mapping) of such pipelines and other forms of underground utility infrastructure.


MAPPS, the national association of private sector mapping, geospatial, and geographic information systems (GIS) firms, respectfully urges Members of Congress to sponsor a legislative provision requiring accurate mapping of Pipelines and other forms of underground infrastructure, "in accordance with standards and protocols for the collection of geospatial data developed under section 216 of the E-Government Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-347; 44 U.S.C. 3501 note)." For more information, contact John Byrd, MAPPS Government Affairs Manager, at or (703) 787-6996.