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Local property owner ordered to pay for repair of ruptured natural gas line

Found at fault by Civil Resolution Tribunal for going ahead with dig without up-to-date BC 1 Call ticket

A Civil Resolution Tribunal member has ordered a Prince George-area property owner to pay FortisBC Energy Inc. more than $1,400 for the cost of repairing a ruptured natural gas line.

In a decision issued this week, CRT vice chair Shelley Lopez found the owner at fault for the July 2021 mishap on his five-acre rural property because he had failed to obtain a valid BC 1 Call ticket and had not exposed the line by hand digging before deploying his excavator.

The owner had countered that Fortis failed to provide an accurate sketch and to adequately mark the gas line with a tracer line and alleged that, after he previously obtained a ticket in 2018, a technician from the company could not fully trace the line but said that he could still go ahead and dig on certain areas of the property.

The tickets last two years, Lopez noted, and did not accept the owner's "apparent assertion that it is impractical for him to have to call BC 1 Call every time he wants to dig around his property."

Moreover, Lopez found the technician who visited his property after he obtained the previous ticket did not authorize the owner to dig in the area where the gas line was damaged in July 2021.

It was not a complete win for Fortis. The company had been seeking $2,387.45 but Lopez settled on $1,429.55 and agreed with the owner's assertion that he should not be responsible for the amount Fortis on spent digging and searching for a tracer wire after the rupture.

In invoicing the owner, Fortis did not separate out the cost of repairing the line from the cost of the search for the tracer wire, Lopez noted, and allowed $1,100 for the cost of the search, based on the owner's "undisputed" description of the repair work two Fortis employees carried out in the aftermath.

According to Lopez, the owner bought the property in April 2018 and sometime later the same year, obtained a BC 1 Call ticket to determine where the utilities were located but did no excavation work at the time. 

In 2019, the owner asked Fortis to locate the gas line because he wanted to build a shop and install a gate and fencing at the beginning of his driveway near the road. The technician could only identify about 30 feet out from the house, meter and main line. 

In summer 2020, the owner dug and installed the gate and posts at the beginning of the driveway without any trouble. Then, in July 2021, he decided to add fencing “off the edges” of the gate.

He marked the post to angle away from the gate and driveway “into the bush line” and hand dug just over two feet down where he hit “very hard compact clay” that he believed was undisturbed and left him feeling safe to continue digging to a four-foot depth with an auger on his excavator.

"As he inserted the auger to clean out the hole, he 'caught' the gas line that was on the hole’s edge," Lopez said.

Lopez found it "unreasonable and below the standard of care" for the owner to have proceeded with digging by machinery on the basis that in 2019, the technician said he "thought" the gas line ran down the middle of the driveway.

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