This blog series is laser-focused on innovative technology that can improve the damage prevention process. While this particular series only discusses one technology – Electronic white-lining (EWL)– we have covered its manifold benefits, including public safety, damage reduction, and communications value.

Electronic white-lining has multiple advantages, but here we focus on environmental benefits. The use of EWL can help mitigate environmental disruptions at three stages: before, during, and after a dig. Most simply, this is by reducing vehicle emissions and truck rolls to the dig site before the dig, helping to avoid damage caused during excavation, and preventing the direct and indirect rippling effects of any damage that would otherwise occur, which often results in greater vehicle emissions, environmental harm, and community impacts.

Most importantly, EWL benefits more than just excavators or just locators. As the PHMSA-backed Virginia pilot program concluded “every stakeholder benefits at least indirectly.” This is why the use of EWL is an overall environmental win, because it achieves a reduction in trips to the work site, saving on gas, and has been shown to contribute to the prevention of damage.

For utility operators and locators, this provides an opportunity for ticket screening (i.e. the ability to determine whether or what facilities are in the proposed dig area) that can eliminate unnecessary trips to a work site altogether. It can also help reduce driving to multiple points on a property, with the exact excavation point clearly narrowed down.

For excavators, use of electronic white-lining can prevent repeat or unnecessary trips to the dig site that may be needed for physical white lining. It also cuts down on meet-sites where the excavator and locator physically meet on site to discuss the proposed excavation or site markings. By using electronic platforms and virtual processes, much of the critical communication can happen from headquarters, offices, or on the go, rather than in person.

Sparing all of these trips eliminated by using electronic white-lining means that stakeholders can keep it in park, not having to make certain unnecessary trips to the worksite. That means less tailpipe emissions. With the transportation sector being a substantial contributor to carbon emissions and air pollutants, less vehicle trips in damage prevention should be an objective. It also reduces traffic on the roadways, which helps reduce idling and overall emissions from other vehicles the locator and excavator may have interacted with on the way to or from the job site.

While that may be a marginal win for the environment, it is nevertheless a real win. Fewer truck rolls out to the job site means less emissions. But there are other obvious environmental benefits from electronic white-lining centering on the key aspect of damage prevention – fewer excavation incidents.

Certain damage incidents directly release hazardous liquids or gases, contaminants, or waste. When a natural gas pipeline is struck, it releases methane directly into the atmosphere (and methane has up to 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the relevant time period). Oil and liquids pipelines can harm local environments, and wastewater can impact human health, wildlife, and plant life near an excavation incident.

These direct damage impacts have clear environmental implications, so avoiding damage by using best practice such as EWL help directly protect the environment. They also help avoid the indirect ramifications of damage beyond leaks, such as emergency vehicle response, project delays, service interruptions, traffic disruptions, and more. These lead to new and added vehicle emissions, idling, and inefficiency. Multiple emergency response vehicles from one or more of police, fire, or ambulance may be mobilized. Traffic may be delayed or roads closed entirely; this leads not only to idling but also to rerouting, to potentially longer routes, and adding more miles to a trip. And with any damage, repeated visits to the site become necessary to repair damage, investigate the incident, assign liability, assess the project, delay work, return to proceed with work, and ultimately prolong excavation or construction. At every stage, vehicle emissions are added which could have been avoided.

The use of best practices and technology are always chiefly employed to reduce damage, but the added safety and environmental benefits that come alongside must be calculated into the equation. While the best practice of physical white-lining greatly improves communication and reduces the potential for damage, electronic white-lining shows how leveraging technology retains all the benefits of communication and damage reduction and spares vehicle emissions.

Stay tuned for the next blogs in this series explaining the economic/efficiency and investigative benefits for electronic white-lining.


Read the full series:


Safer Digging Part 1: Before the Shovel

Safer Digging Part 2: Click Don’t Call

Safer Digging Part 3: Keep it in Park

Safer Digging Part 4: Saving Time Saving Money

Safer Digging Part 5: Investigating a Damage


Written by Benjamin Dierker, Director of Public Policy


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.