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Explosion drill goes off with a bang

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Smoke emits after a gas pipeline was ruptured during a safety demonstration in Artesia Wednesday. (Mike Smith Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

ARTESIA — It was only a test.

People from the emergency and energy sectors watch a pipeline safety demonstration Wednesday in Artesia. (Mike Smith Photo)

Those words probably summed up what emergency, construction and energy personnel witnessed during a live gas line rupture drill at the Eddy County Fairgrounds in Artesia on Wednesday.

The drill was presented by a host of agencies and groups including New Mexico 811.

“We had a line strike from an operator who assumed he knew the location of the line based off the pipeline markers,” said Marcus Ogas project manager for Enertech. “His spotter ended up getting hurt because he tripped over some equipment that was laying in the area close by.”

Once that happened, emergency personnel were called in. An officer from the Artesia Police Department was first to arrive on scene to secure the site.

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Later, a fire engine from the Atoka Volunteer Fire Department was called in. The fire crew then assessed the situation and set up a command post.

The ambulance company from the Artesia Fire Department was also called in as crews worked to put out the mock gas fire and the injured spotter was taken to safety.

“There’s a whole other world below the ground in underground utilities,” Ogas said.

He said utility markers are placed in certain spots for certain reasons.That was the first part of the exercise.

“By law, when you call in a ticket, a utility locator or pipeline operator will come and mark it,” Ogas added.

He said there are different colors that are used for different things. The biggest color that people learned about was yellow.

“Yellow paint and flags, which is your gas and petroleum products,” he said.

Those markings serve as a warning to people that they shouldn’t dig within 18 inches of them, according to Ogas.

Ogas said the markings and colors aren’t limited to the petroleum fields in our area. He said homeowners may notice other colors in their front yard as well.

“You see red for electricity, orange for your telecom, green is your wastewater, blue is your water, it’s APWA (American Public Works Association) color codes,” he said.

“As a homeowner, you may see a green box or transformer or a meter at your house and not even realize what it’s doing,” Ogas said. “There’s lines running there and that’s what they’re marked for, so you can dig safely and not get hurt.”

Artesia police commander Lindell Smith was one of those who watched the demonstration from the bleachers at the Artesia Horse Council Arena.

“It helped us to prepare or do a small exercise about what to do if, something gets hit,” he said. “We establish an incident command and we take control of the situation and we call the appropriate people to respond and those are the types of things we can do pretty easily and they specifically have to do with life, limb and property.”

General assignment reporter Mike Smith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 307, or at sports2@rdrnews.com.