The California State Contractors Licensing Board (CSLB) confirmed in its 2013 Fall CLC Newsletter that there are 10 complaints pending against licensed contractors that PG&E claims did not go through the required permitting process to note the underground location of the existing utility pipelines in the area where work was to be performed and while digging in the area struck a gas pipeline. The CSLB warned that licensed contractors who damage natural gas lines during unauthorized digs can expect closer scrutiny by the CSLB. Although the CSLB has had the legal authority to take action against licensees for negligent pipeline breaks (Bus. & Prof. Code § 7110), there have been only 13 incidents in California brought to the CSLB in the last 2 years. Penalties could range from a warning letter to the licensee to revocation of the license, which would occur in the most serious cases.
Those who fail to register with the Underground Service Alert of Northern California or Underground Service Alert of Southern California are also subject to a fine of up to $50,000 and they can be held responsible for any repair costs. Even with the potentially stiff penalties, too many contractors may still be taking part in unauthorized excavations. The CSLB reported that, in 2012, 1,754 incidents of damage to utility lines were reported in California. An estimated 60% of those pipeline breaches were committed by contractors and the majority of the line breaks occurred during an unauthorized dig.
Any digging or excavation, even if it is just breaking ground with a shovel, requires licensed contractors to call 8-1-1 and to coordinate at least 2 days beforehand with the Underground Service Alert of Northern California or Underground Service Alert of Southern California.