Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) recently opened a facility in San Francisco's East Bay to develop the tools and test resources to bolster natural gas transportation and storage operations.
For the beleaguered combination utility giant, still hoping to erase the stigma of the 2010 San Bruno transmission pipeline rupture and explosion, the opening of the Center for Gas Safety and Innovation in Dublin is considered a significant step in its six-year effort to restore its reputation.
The 25,000-square-foot center provides space for three key groups within PG&E's gas operations, which state regulators in recent years have chided for not having a sufficient "safety mindset" to elevate operations above past sub-par levels.
"We strive to be at the leading edge of developing new methods and technologies that combine to enhance safety and reliability of our gas infrastructure," said Vice President Sumeet Singh, who handles gas portfolio management/engineering. "The new facility is mission critical to these goals."
Singh pointed to an ongoing project with industry-wide potential that involves fusing sections of plastic pipe. Working with McElroy Manufacturing Inc., PG&E added a data logger to scan the profile of the equipment operator to ensure industry standards are met. PG&E also plans to integrate quality assurance and safety into its ongoing operations, Singh told NGI during a recent interview.
Since the San Bruno tragedy, PG&E also has taken heat for allegedly poor emergency response capabilities. Two years ago in Bakersfield a contractor punctured a high-pressure PG&E transmission pipeline, which killed one person, injured three people and set a house on fire.
"In this case we were able to shut off the gas in a matter of minutes, as opposed to San Bruno, where it took us 90 minutes, so these are the types of capabilities that are arising from our new center," Singh said.
PG&E has installed automatic, remote valves throughout its transmission system, and Singh said the new center is critical to integrate all of the remote valves with the utility's gas operations control center in nearby San Ramon.
As well, PG&E has to an "unprecedented extent" opened itself up to third-party review, investigation and assessment, and has consistently passed the test, he said.
Three former members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spent five years at PG&E operations to provide feedback to the utility board and to the California Public Utilities Commission.
"Through the feedback they provided, they noticed a significant difference in how our employees and contractors approached safety," Singh said.
Lloyd's Register also reviewed utility-wide safety practices, information and risk management policies, as well as employee qualifications, emergency response protocols and another 20 critical areas of asset management. Lloyd's has audited and certified the utility for the international standard on asset management.
Lloyd's also provided certification on the American Petroleum Institute pipeline safety management standard, which covers both natural gas and liquid pipeline operations.
"We've really opened up our operations to Lloyd's, and we were first certified in 2014, and since then every six month they come in a do a surveillance visit," said Singh.
A renewed safety culture is encouraged through a "speak up" program that urges employees to help identify and eliminate safety problems.
"We're keeping safety in the forefront at the heart of everything we do," said Singh. "Our objective is to be humble, continue to learn and get better, and recognize that when it comes to safety our work is never done."