PG&E Completes NTSB Mandate on Automatic and Remote Shut-Off Valves

April 2016, Vol. 243, No. 4

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced Feb. 17 that it completed another significant safety recommendation issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) following the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

The NTSB granted PG&E “closed acceptable action” status for installing the recommended number of automatic and remote control shut-off valves on its gas transmission lines. PG&E has now satisfied 11 of the 12 safety recommendations made by the NTSB for improving the operations and management of its natural gas pipeline system.

“We have made incredible progress as a company toward our goal of becoming the safest and most reliable gas provider in the country. This latest achievement puts us one step closer toward fulfilling our commitment to satisfy all of the NTSB recommendations. We recognize that we have more work to do and when it comes to safety, our work is never done,” said Jesus Soto, senior vice president of Gas Operations.

Automatic and remote control shut-off valves improve PG&E’s ability to quickly turn off the flow of gas in the event of a significant change in pressure. PG&E crews have installed 235 automatic and remote controlled valves since 2011. Remote controlled valves can be opened or closed with the push of a button from PG&E’s state-of-the-art gas control center in San Ramon.

Remote control valves were instrumental in isolating within 10 minutes a 34-inch transmission pipeline that was struck and damaged by a third-party performing agricultural excavation in a rural area of Bakersfield in November 2015. Automatic valves are installed where transmission pipelines cross major fault lines and close automatically when local sensors at the valve site detect a loss of pressure during an anomaly event such as an earthquake.

In addition to automating 235 valves, PG&E has achieved other significant milestones in recent years toward improving the safety and reliability of its natural gas pipeline system including:

  • Becoming the first company in the U.S. to meet the rigor of a new industry standard for pipeline safety management systems and safety culture, the American Petroleum Institute Recommended Practice (API RP 1173), as well as becoming one of the first utilities in the world to achieve PAS 55-1: 2008 and ISO 55001:2014 certifications for best-in-class asset management.
  • Improving response time to gas odor reports to an average of 20 minutes, which represents the top ten percent for gas utilities nationally.
  • Decommissioning all known remaining cast-iron pipe in its system, replacing it with modern plastic pipe that is more flexible and reliable during earthquakes, and newer steel pipe.
  • Replacing 127 miles of gas transmission pipeline.

The 12th and final safety recommendation from the NTSB, which includes strength testing natural gas transmission lines, is in “open-acceptable” status, indicating that PG&E’s progress is appropriate and acceptable.

Support for Research Center Recognized

PG&E is also supporting the work of the University of Dayton Vision Lab to monitor over 2 million miles of pipelines that affect virtually every community in the U.S.

According to the university, PG& E has given the Vision Lab $254,362 to help researchers continue to develop an automated monitoring system that will quickly identify threats or damage to oil and gas pipelines. The new system will automatically detect changes near pipeline right of  ways because of construction and relay information to pipeline operators and first responders.

“Construction, especially additions to buildings, often encroaches on pipeline right of ways, adding additional weight and stress to the land surrounding the pipeline,” said Vijayan Asari, Ohio Research Scholar in Wide-Area Surveillance at the University of Dayton and director of the Vision Lab.

From heights of 1,000-3,000 feet, the software can enhance image clarity by 25 times and eliminate shadows, fog, haze, smoke, rain and other atmospheric noise to better reveal the threats. The software also can automatically detect intrusions to the pipeline right of ways such as large vehicles or construction equipment.

The system will be able to process and transmit images in virtual real time plus report the threat location on a Google map. Asari and Vision Lab researchers have been working on pipeline safety since the lab opened in 2010.

Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI) also has contributed almost $500,000 to the lab, providing opportunities for up to 10 full-time researchers and 15 students at a time to assist with the pipeline safety project.

“The project with PRCI is in its final stage. A vendor is testing our software and the results look very promising,” Asari said. “We are in the process of finding appropriate customers for commercialization of the product.”

Vision Lab researchers also perform research in the areas of brain analysis, vision-guided autonomous robotic navigation and tracking, and facial behavior recognition. The lab is home to RAIDER, a robot with facial recognition capabilities. The Vision Lab and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center hope one day RAIDER can be dropped into dangerous areas to rescue injured persons.

Honored For Workplace Quality

PG&E was named as one of the best places to work in the U.S. by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest national civil rights organization working to achieve workplace equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. For the 13th straight year, the company received a perfect 100% rating on the HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for their consistently strong commitment to embrace diversity and inclusion.

“In this 2016 Corporate Equality Index, hundreds of major businesses responded to our new standards for workplace equality with exceptional leadership. PG&E not only meets these standards, it goes above and beyond the call of duty, making commitment to equality a fundamental aspect of its corporate values”

In compiling the CEI report, the HRC surveyed the top-grossing 1,000 publicly traded companies and the top-200 grossing law firms on their inclusive policies, practices and benefits for LGBT employees. PG&E received perfect scores in the four key areas:

  • equal employment opportunity policy;
  • employment benefits;
  • organizational competency in LGBT inclusion;
  • public commitment on recruiting, supplier diversity and public support for LGBT equality under the law.

In 2015, DiversityInc ranked PG&E as one of the top five utilities in the nation for diversity for the seventh straight year. The Latina Style 50 Report recognized PG&E for the fifth time as one of the best companies for Latinas to work for in the U.S. In addition, Affinity Inc. Magazine named PG&E as one of 100 Top Corporations for LGBT Economic Empowerment.

Pipeline & Gas Journal Staff Report

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