Historic Impacts

As part of PG&E’s environmental commitment, we have a robust environmental remediation program to address contamination associated with historic PG&E operations and the operations of predecessor companies dating as far back as the mid- to late-1800s. PG&E’s Environmental Remediation Department is responsible for managing the successful cleanup of more than 100 sites in more than 60 communities across California.

Our Approach

PG&E’s environmental remediation work reflects our commitment to environmental stewardship, safety and customer service. Our sustainable principles, practices and technologies focus on minimizing impacts to the environment and community and employing sustainable remediation practices to the greatest extent possible. We have implemented our guidance for sustainable remediation, prepared and piloted with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

Stakeholder engagement is an important component of our work. We regularly communicate with local businesses, community leaders and residents to promote awareness, solicit feedback and develop strategies to minimize disruption during the cleanup process. In addition, we strive to support the local economy and partner with agencies on initiatives that serve the community.

We also share best practices and benchmark our efforts against other utilities and industries, including through the MGP Consortium, a peer group of environmental remediation experts from gas utility companies across the nation.

2014 Milestones

PG&E’s Natural Gas Compressor Stations

Career skills for Hinkley-area youth

Hinkley Career Institute members at a meeting
(Photo by James Green)

Within Hinkley, PG&E promotes community vitality, education, health and youth empowerment and workforce development. This includes our partnership with the Career Institute to provide career-building services for young adults in the community.

PG&E’s natural gas system includes eight compressor stations, which receive and move natural gas throughout the system. PG&E used hexavalent chromium to prevent rust in cooling towers at the Topock and Hinkley compressor stations during the 1950s and 1960s—a common industry practice at the time, long before the environmental standards to which we adhere today. These operations resulted in groundwater contamination that PG&E is working diligently to address, with several recent milestones:

  • Neared completion of the Topock Compressor Station groundwater cleanup plan. PG&E is working closely with regulatory agencies, Native American tribes and other community stakeholders to make progress on a cleanup plan for the Topock Compressor Station in San Bernardino County. PG&E also submitted a plan for soil investigation, which underwent a public review process in 2014. Until final plans are approved, PG&E continues interim groundwater treatments that ensure the ongoing protection of the nearby Colorado River.
  • Made significant remediation progress at the Hinkley Compressor Station. PG&E remains committed to protecting public health and safety while cleaning up the environment, restoring water quality and recognizing and responding to community concerns at the Hinkley Compressor Station. Through 2014, PG&E estimates that approximately 50 percent of chromium groundwater impacts have been removed. In 2014, PG&E also expanded agricultural treatment technologies, inviting local farmers to harvest crops on PG&E’s new 60-acre Ranch Agricultural Treatment Unit (ATU). More progress is expected as additional units are brought online in 2015.

    Ongoing testing of the groundwater confirms that the water quality in domestic wells within the program boundaries meets the safety standard approved in 2014 by the California Department of Public Health. In light of the new standard, PG&E phased out a whole-house water treatment program that provided area residents with an alternative drinking water solution.

Manufactured Gas Plants

In the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, before natural gas was available as an energy source, thousands of Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) sites were located in cities and towns across the country, using coal and oil to produce gas for lighting, heating and cooking. With the arrival of natural gas in the 1930s, most of the MGP facilities in PG&E’s service area were closed and the properties put to other uses. PG&E continues to make progress with remediation at 41 MGPs owned or operated by PG&E or its predecessor companies, including this example:

  • Worked with local community in Lodi. For our cleanup of a MGP in Lodi, California, PG&E worked with the local Salvation Army to hire and train unemployed community members, investing more than $1 million in the local economy and removing over 20,000 tons of impacted soil. The skills learned on the project site helped previously unemployed local hires earn full-time jobs within the hazardous waste removal industry.

Additional Environmental Remediation Projects

PG&E applied sustainable principles, practices and technologies at other remediation projects in 2014, including:

Hosting community events at former power plant site

Photo of Circus Bella performers
(Photo by Anne Hamersky)

At the site of PG&E’s former Hunters Point Power Plant, we host events for the public to gather ongoing community input. Last summer, more than 600 adults and children turned out to share their vision of the future and enjoy the Circus Bella.

  • Neared completion of the cleanup at Hunters Point Power Plant. PG&E completed substantial cleanup at the site of the former Hunters Point Power Plant, located along the southeastern waterfront of San Francisco. Soil cleanup is 95 percent complete, and remediation efforts are focused on cleaning the remaining soil surrounding the shoreline. Members of the Hunters Point Project Advisory Committee and other local leaders and residents attended a PG&E-hosted open house on the property to learn about the plan, which received regulatory approval in spring 2015.

    With project completion on the horizon, PG&E is engaging with local residents to gather ideas for the future of the site. Community members have been recording their reflections on life in the neighborhood and visions for the future through a partnership with StoryCorps, a nationally recognized nonprofit oral history project.
  • Leveraging nature to clean up Shell Pond. Now owned by PG&E, this site in Bay Point is home to a 73-acre former wastewater treatment pond built and operated by Shell Oil. PG&E has explored the use of a promising sustainable cleanup method to treat contamination at the site. The new method, called phytoremediation, uses the root systems of plants and fungi to break down and trap contaminants on-site, thereby eliminating the need for off-site disposal.

Measuring Progress

Sustainable Remediation

In 2014, we tracked avoided environmental impacts from more than 85 remediation sites, which resulted from best practices such as:

  • Using heavy construction and remediation equipment meeting Tier 3 and Tier 4 federal emission standards, reflecting the highest standards in the industry
  • Using standard construction and remediation equipment augmented to further minimize emissions
  • Using alternative fuels and renewable sources of energy for equipment and vehicles
  • Maximizing recycling, onsite reuse of materials and reductions in liquid and soil wastes generated during remediation

Through these efforts, PG&E reduced cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 11,000 metric tons, reduced liquid wastes by an estimated 5.5 million gallons and added more than $12 million to the local economies near our remediation projects.

Looking Ahead

PG&E has taken responsibility for historic environmental impacts and continues to work closely with regulators, local residents and others as we make progress on our cleanup plans. For example, building on the success of the Shell Pond cleanup, PG&E will continue piloting large-scale studies of phytoremediation to clean up contaminants using root systems of plant and fungi. In 2015, following approval of the groundwater cleanup plan and soil Environmental Impact Report, we will also begin work to remediate impacts at the Topock Compressor Station, while continuing to engage with key stakeholders before and during field activities.

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