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10 Years After Massive Quake, SoCalGas Assesses Delivery System

10 Years After Massive Quake, SoCalGas Assesses Delivery System

Nearing the 10-year anniversary of the Northridge earthquake that jolted the Los Angeles metropolitan area awake in the still-dark early morning hours of Jan. 17, 1994, one of the major utilities impacted, Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co., looked back Tuesday over how its largest-in-the-nation gas infrastructure has been upgraded over the past decade.

In total, $1 billion of investment has been pumped into the 48,000-mile pipeline/storage system that stretches from Paso Robles on the north -- site of the biggest damage from a 6.5 Richter Scale quake that hit Dec. 22 along the central coast at San Simeon -- to the international border serviced by its affiliated Sempra utility, San Diego Gas and Electric Co. SoCalGas said that while its system in the recent quake and ten years ago withstood the shocks with no major damage it "continues to proactively address seismic hazards to its infrastructure," seeking to minimize safety or service problems for its more than 19 million consumers served through 5.4 million meters.

Calling the SoCal transmission and distribution network "stronger, safer and more reliable," Roy Rawlings, senior vice president for the Sempra utility's distribution operations, said the added $1 billion spent over the last ten years was used to replace older pipelines and make other enhancements, along with continuing to aggressively survey the system to keep it safe.

Rawlings said the gas utility was more fortunate than others (particularly the LA water/electricity municipal utility) regarding major infrastructure damage, with only two or three fires from the hundreds that resulted from the 6.9 Richter Scale quake being caused by gas pipelines. "Rather, most gas-related fires occurred as a result of customers' plumbing systems breaking from water heaters toppling or structures falling from their foundations, such as at manufactured homes."

In addition to replacing older, more vulnerable pipelines with newer, more pliable pipe material, SoCalGas said it has done a lot of retrofitting of above-ground facilities critical to its operations. And in 2002 it completed four major new transmission pipeline expansions that have increased by 11% the deliverability of out-of-state supplies into its more than 5 Bcf/d peak-load pipeline transmission/distribution system.

As the anniversary approached this week, the gas utility published before and after quake tips for its customers, the overwhelming majority of which are residential home and apartment dwellers. At the top of the list for "after-the-quake" is "do not turn off the gas meter unless there is the smell or sound of gas escaping." In 1994, the gas utility estimated that more than 100,000 customers turned off their gas unnecessarily, and it required more than a week and hundreds of loaned field service workers from neighboring utilities in three states to restore service.

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