Documents filed at FERC reveal that Washington Gas Light (WGL), which serves metropolitan Washington, DC and suburban areas, experienced a significant spike in compression-related natural gas leaks in 1999 when no liquefied natural gas (LNG) was flowing on its system. This was four years prior to the utility reporting a major upswing in leaks that it attributed to deliveries of high Btu-content LNG.

In comments filed at FERC following a Feb. 22 procedural conference, Washington Gas said the "substantial increase in the level of leaks did not occur until 'after' LNG deliveries began in August 2003," but in an apparent conflict, statistics showed gas leaks were pervasive in 1999. The utility had further noted there was a "direct and substantial relationship of time, location and duration of exposure between the significant increase in leaks and the receipt of unblended LNG" in 2003.

The total number of gas leaks on its distribution system that were attributed to LNG was 562 in 2003, up 55% from the 363 leaks experienced in the previous year, according to figures cited in the FERC document. In contrast, the pre-LNG, compression-related leaks on the Washington Gas system spiked to 531 in 1999 from 359 in the prior year, for an increase of 48%, it said.

"In light of the 'substantial increase' in compression couplings [leaks] experienced by Washington Gas in 1999," FERC in a series of questions forwarded to Washington Gas on Friday asked the utility how it "[could] attribute LNG as the sole cause of the spike in leaks in 2003."

Washington Gas told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it engaged in a "detailed internal review to study any and all possibilities related to the leak problem" in 2003. "Did Washington Gas engage in the same 'detailed internal review' to study any [and] all possibilities that caused the 'significant increase' in leaks experienced by Washington Gas in 1999?" FERC staff asked.

FERC further asked whether the utility had offered to include Dominion Cove Point LNG (the provider of transportation for the LNG), the LNG suppliers and the manufacturer of the compression couplings in any of the studies that were conducted by Groton, MA-based ENVIRON International Corp., Polymer Solutions Inc. and Natural Gas Technology. It called on Washington Gas to respond to these and other questions within 10 days [CP05-130, CP05-131].

In July 2005, Washington Gas released the results of a study that blamed vaporized LNG from Dominion's Cove Point import terminal in Maryland for widespread leaks on its distribution system in Prince Georges County, MD. The utility reported that the gas leaks began to increase in 2003 around the time that it began distributing regasified LNG from the terminal. The leaks reportedly were concentrated in a 100-square mile area that received most of its gas directly from Cove Point, Washington Gas said.

Dominion disputed Washington Gas' interpretation of the study's findings, which it contends cited the utility's aging infrastructure as the real cause of the problem.

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