Our Gas Operations

PG&E has reshaped and reinvigorated its gas operations business with a back-to-basics approach focused on providing safe, reliable and affordable customer-centric service. This approach is perhaps most visible in the many immediate and longer-term steps we have taken to ensure the safety and integrity of our gas system.

Changing the Culture: Putting Safety Above All Else

To help drive continuous improvement, PG&E separated its gas and electric businesses and reorganized its gas operations under a new leadership team headed by Nick Stavropoulos, a 30-year gas industry veteran. Under his leadership, the gas organization also clarified roles and responsibilities, provided more effective governance and established an organizational structure that will facilitate process improvements.

In addition, we established a leadership team with extensive industry expertise and expanded our work force, where needed, to implement the organization’s enhanced focus on safety and operational excellence. Among other responsibilities, these employees will perform leak surveys and leak repairs, replace pipe, install new infrastructure, perform critical quality assessment and quality control functions, conduct investment planning work, respond to emergencies and handle other functions critical to providing best-in-class natural gas service.

PG&E is taking numerous steps to turn around our safety performance and create a safety-first culture that makes public safety our top priority. These include:

  • Establishing greater centralized control over our gas standards, procedures and systems and creating and/or updating these guidance documents with key input related to public and employee safety, new codes, industry best practice and existing quality processes and employee feedback;
  • Empowering employees to report and act on safety concerns and letting employees know that their ideas and opinions are an important part of improving safety, accountability and operational performance;
  • Developing training and evaluation programs that support employees throughout their careers, benchmarking training practices and prioritizing training development and delivery; and
  • Broadening the scope and resources of a unit dedicated to quality and improvement within our gas operations organization.

While this work will span several years and involve many organizational, operational and procedural changes, we are working to build a modern gas system that will meet a new set of regulations and set the standard when it comes to pipeline safety. We have also made substantial progress in communicating with customers, working with regulators and coordinating with local government agencies and first responders throughout this process. We are committed to open and transparent communication as we work to improve the safety and integrity of our natural gas system.

Steps Taken to Strengthen the Safety of our Gas System

While moving ahead with the foundational improvements noted above, PG&E has already taken and will continue to take actions that assure public safety remains the highest priority. In 2011, those steps included:

  • Reducing pressure on more than 900 miles of gas transmission pipelines to provide a greater margin of safety on our operating pipelines;
  • Hydrostatically testing 163 miles of transmission pipeline running through densely populated areas. These tests, where pipe segments are isolated and water is inserted and pressurized for extended periods, are intended to validate the ability of the pipeline to operate safely at its maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) and identify any weaknesses or leaks in the system;
  • Validating the MAOP on approximately 2,000 miles of transmission pipeline, primarily transmission pipelines running through urban, populated areas known as high consequence areas;
  • Gathering, scanning and uploading more than 2.3 million paper documents into electronic files going back more than 50 years;
  • Installing five new automated valves, automating six existing valves and upgrading two valves that already had remote control capabilities; and
  • Increasing patrols and leak surveys.

In addition, PG&E is also increasing coordination with local officials and first responders in communities across our service area, sharing crucial information on PG&E’s systems and bringing an added degree of collaboration and emergency preparedness for both PG&E and these stakeholders.

PG&E’s Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan

In June 2011, the CPUC directed PG&E and other California gas utilities to submit a plan for replacing or pressure testing all natural gas transmission pipelines that had not already been pressure tested. PG&E responded with its Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan (PSEP), which proposes investments that will meet new, industry-wide safety standards and a much-needed next generation of infrastructure upgrades.

PSEP is a long-term proposal, the first phase of which addresses four key areas through 2014:

  • Pipeline modernization. Test, inspect and replace pipelines as necessary to ensure that every gas transmission pipeline operates at or below proven, tested and verified safe operating pressures, and to allow for state-of-the-art internal inspections, or “pigging.” Our plan proposes to replace more than 180 miles of pipeline, strength test more than 780 miles and retrofit about 200 miles to accommodate in-line inspections.
  • Valve automation. Install additional remote control valves and automatic shutoff valves to enable the isolation of pipeline segments more quickly in an emergency. We plan to automate more than 220 valves, focusing on pipelines located in highly populated and earthquake prone areas.
  • Pipeline records integration. Reduce reliance on paper records and move towards a fully electronic asset management system to increase data accuracy, thus, making significant improvements to PG&E’s records and information management.
  • Interim safety enhancement measures. Enhance the safety margin of our pipelines prior to testing and replacing them, by continuing to validate the MAOP for all gas transmission pipelines in our system and reduce gas pipeline pressure in certain areas. We have also increased the frequency of patrols and leak surveys.

The PSEP also includes significant customer and community outreach to notify and educate affected customers of any work that may impact them and address any concerns they may have.

We recognize there is much more work ahead, but the result of this effort will be significantly higher standards of pipeline safety that better serve our customers.

Modernizing Our Technology and Equipment

PG&E is transforming its gas operations by using new, modern tools and technologies. This includes high-definition cameras and high-tech devices called “smart pigs” to inspect inside our pipelines. We also conducted a first-of-its-kind study of technologies that were mounted underneath helicopters to look for gas leaks on our pipelines.

In 2012, PG&E became the first utility to demonstrate a car-mounted natural gas leak detection device, which is much more sensitive than traditional instruments. PG&E is also using an advanced hand-held leak-detection instrument called Detecto Pak-Infared (DP-IR) that uses infrared technology to pinpoint methane gas without false alarms from other gases. This technology can detect and grade leaks at the same time.

We also began using handheld tablet computers to give field personnel access to real-time data and pipeline maps to enable faster response times and improve the customer experience.