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California Regulators ID Best Practices, Technologies For NatGas Leak Detection

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Wednesday asked natural gas utilities to weigh in on a staff report that identifies some of the best practices and new technologies in methane leak detection.

"Survey of Natural Gas Leakage Abatement Best Practices" is a CPUC staff report that offers guidance, in part, on ways to reduce the state's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The report was required as part of the CPUC’s mandates under Senate Bill 1371, enacted last summer (see Daily GPI, Aug. 28, 2014).

State Sen. Mark Leno, who authored the legislation, said CPUC is directed to "develop and implement a comprehensive gas pipelines leak reduction strategy" that can promise "quick and efficient" leak repairs. The Environmental Defense Fund, among others, has said the legislation would create jobs and address climate change challenges.

The report identifies technologies and what it considers to be operational best practices currently in use in California and in other states. Staffers also reviewed ideas and practices in various stages of research and development that may help gas utilities reduce natural gas leaks in the future.

A key finding, staff said, is that "any and all methane leaks may be considered hazardous to life, property, or the environment," a conclusion that may impact how utilities and other gas companies prioritize their efforts to eliminate gas leaks.

Additional costs are associated with enacting a "more assertive approach" to reducing leaks, but the economic benefits overall may be higher, staff said. Reducing methane emissions "may be a win-win, resulting in an improved environment and a reduction in costs to consumers to avoid GHG and the monetary value of the leaked gas."

As part of the proceeding, the CPUC plans to consult with the California Air Resources Board and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to implement policies for improved methods of measuring and controlling gas leaks. The report also is the subject of a public workshop scheduled for April 6 in San Francisco.

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