Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) on Wednesday launched the use of fiber optics to monitor segments of its largest high-pressure and transmission pipelines at least 12 inches in diameter.

Calling it a "first-of-its-kind," the Sempra Energy gas utility broke ground for the fiber optic cable installation to allow the real-time monitoring. The first installation is along a seven-mile section of a new pipeline in Bakersfield, CA.

The technology is designed to provide an early warning system to detect unauthorized construction work that could damage the pipeline and indicate changes in pressure that may identify a leak.

Utility officials said the system is to help modernize SoCalGas' pipeline network that covers 22,000 square miles totaling 101,000 miles collectively for the distribution and transmission systems.

"It can help prevent damage to our lines and help us mitigate leaks more quickly," said SoCalGas’ Deanna Haines, director of gas engineering.

Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall reiterated the importance of real-time information to detect potential problems. "Firefighters will be able to respond quickly to an emergency and work with SoCalGas to stop the problem from escalating,” he said.

The new technology can pinpoint within 20 feet where a potential problem may be developing, said a SoCalGas spokesperson.

"The system operates on the principle that light signals vary when a fiber optic cable is exposed to vibration, stress or abnormal changes in temperature -- indicators of a possible gas leak or an impact to a gas pipeline," said a utility spokesperson.

With access to continuous, real-time measurements and area-specific data, SoCalGas crews and first responders have more time to plan, allocate resources, and take the right actions to mitigate potential leaks and damage to pipelines.

Earlier this year at the troubled Aliso Canyon storage facility, where critics have pointed to leaks occurring seemingly unchecked, SoCalGas hasurged skeptical local residents and the general public to visit its website to check out the sophisticated methane monitoring data. The tool supplements a single-monitoring station maintained by residents of the nearby Porter Ranch community.