June 2016, Vol. 243, No. 6


SoCalGas Finds Efficiencies in Large Pipeline Safety Project

By Richard D. Phillips, Senior Director, Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan, SoCalGas

In the current phase of the Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan (PSEP), Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) and San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) are testing and replacing about 175 miles of pipe and upgrading/installing over 450 shutoff valves throughout the system.

There are nearly 200 distinct PSEP pipeline and valve projects, led by over 30 different project managers. The sheer volume and complexity of work included in PSEP has driven SoCalGas to find efficiencies in a number of areas.

Background on PSEP

On June 12, 2014 the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved SoCalGas and SDG&E’s joint PSEP. The PSEP work is in response to new requirements adopted by the state of California and the CPUC to enhance the safety of California’s natural gas transmission pipeline system.

PSEP is one of the largest pipeline safety projects in the U.S. As required by the CPUC, all natural gas pipelines in our transmission system that have not been tested already, or do not have adequate records of a pressure test, will be tested or replaced. This phase of PSEP calls for SoCalGas to hydrostatically pressure test or replace about 175 miles of transmission pipelines in populated areas, and retrofit over 450 valves to be automatically or remotely controlled.

Safety is, and has always been paramount at SoCalGas and SDG&E;our Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan boosts the integrity of our system and further protects our customers and employees. Safety is a core value that we demonstrate through action and investment. SoCalGas and SDG&E are investing almost $2 billion to improve the safety, performance and reliability of our pipeline system and infrastructure. Our plan also is expected to create over 1,800 jobs and generate nearly $2 billion in economic activity, based on direct, indirect and supporting services in Southern California.

Creating Efficiencies

The PSEP team has standardized processes in several areas, generating significant cost and work efficiencies. Here are some examples:

  • Job books are used at the beginning of PSEP projects for construction inspection purposes. They contain key information that construction managers require, such as the basis of assumptions used by those who planned the projects, for use by the construction personnel who oversee the construction. Also included are drawings, plans and permits, and their conditions. Last year, the PSEP team standardized the table of contents and other information required before moving a construction job from the office to the field. As a result, there now is less redundancy, the construction teams can more easily find drawings and other job files, and inspectors now have consistent information regarding the project.
  • “Squad checks” are team-created formal checklists that must be completed in the design stage and approved at different stages. Squad checks involve up to 15 signoffs by various functional departments. Initially, project design reviews were fairly perfunctory with little accountability or rigor, which sometimes led to costly redesigns later. The improved process has led to a sharp decline of costly last-minute changes.

Building on Knowledge

Three years into PSEP, SoCalGas has taken advantage of what the team has already learned. As an example, the team has begun the process of rebidding contracts in a number of areas, including engineering, field inspections, surveying and environmental services.

Here’s how the bidding process has changed in just one area, field inspections: At its inception PSEP hired inspectors, paying market rates for those services. But market conditions changed. In early 2015, PSEP put together a request for proposals (RFP) and went to bid for inspection services with a goal to actively pursue the best cost for ratepayers with the most qualified inspectors.

Ten inspection service firms responded to the RFP and submitted bids. The PSEP team chose three finalists based on a combination of experience and price. PSEP signed each of the three firms to a two-year agreement; field inspectors are chosen from these firms.

Moving to a process in which three firms submit competitive bids has resulted in savings of about 12% per individual inspector. This model can be used with other groups within SoCalGas that rely on inspection services, such as Pipeline Integrity and Pipeline Technical Services.

Leveraging Technology

All businesses constantly take advantage of technological advancements and PSEP is no exception. The PSEP team has made great strides to reduce paperwork while improving consistency. Here are examples:

  • M2M (many-to-many): For some time, PSEP was logging daily field inspection data on paper. That process sometimes led to numerous follow-ups with the field team to obtain missing information needed to complete the report. In 2015, PSEP inspectors transferred data captured on field inspections to tablets. In addition to reducing the amount of paper in inspection records, the use of iPads eliminates written records and missing information, and generates more consistent, better-quality inspection data. The improved process also reduces the time it takes to get inspection data into the system, from 10-14 days to one day.

VMS: This is a contractor-management tool that facilitates a review of hours charged. This internal timekeeping tool streamlines time reporting and approvals, provides a simplified online portal for recording all contractor labor for the PSEP management team, and adds overall visibility to the use of contractors. PSEP employs as many as 250 contractor personnel at a given time, so automating labor increases controls and saves considerable time.

SAP: SoCalGas uses SAP for the majority of IT applications. PSEP had been keeping material inventory lists and other related information in separate systems. The PSEP team recently converted to SAP inventory management and warehousing modules, providing greater visibility into PSEP materials across the company, since SAP links this data to other SoCalGas modules such as asset management and finance.

Delcon: This is a document management tool used to house records during the project lifecycle, and then to automate the transfer of records to SoCalGas’ central asset management system. The system houses the final copy of the document with the data needed to facilitate direct transfer into geographic information and other document-retention systems.

Author: Rick Phillips is senior director for Southern California Gas Company’s (SoCalGas) and San Diego Gas & Electric’s Pipeline System Enhancement Plan (PSEP), a $1 billion gas transmission pipeline rehabilitation project. He has held several senior positions in SoCalGas and SDG&E, leading large teams in engineering, supply chain, gas distribution operations, gas service operations and gas storage operations. Phillips holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Irvine.

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