Texas Tech University

Failure to Identify Underground Gas Line Causes Gas Leak and Near Miss Explosion

November 2016

What happened?

On November 3, 2016 two undergraduate students at the New Deal Farm were excavating previously made post holes for a fence that had been dug earlier in the year but had refilled due to weather. Using a tractor mounted augur, they unknowingly severed a 2-inch natural gas line that served the Feed Mill and other buildings on the property. This went unnoticed by the individual students and 451.7 thousand cubic feet of natural gas leaked out throughout the night until it was discovered the following day.

burst pipe

Section of damaged gas line.

What was the cause?

Individuals performing the excavation of the post holes did not obtain markings for buried utilities before beginning work. The individuals mistakenly believed that because the post holes were installed earlier they did not need to have utilities marked again and were unaware of the danger of the actions they were taking.

What corrective actions were taken?

When the leak was discovered by Farm staff the farm buildings evacuated and the gas main was shut off. Maintenance staff then uncovered and repaired the line to allow operations to continue. Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) staff investigated and concluded the following recommendation:

  1. University personnel should follow Operating Policy 61.11 whenever digging on university property. This operating policy requires notification to Texas 811 call center at least 48 hours before operation. This will provide temporary markings of all buried utilities prior to digging. All staff and teaching faculty were educated to this operating policy to avoid future incidents.

How can we prevent incidents like this?

Always contact Texas 811 to obtain the location of buried utilities before digging.


  1. Texas 811
  2. Texas Tech University Operating Policy 61.11