Beleaguered by fallout from the fatal San Bruno natural gas transmission pipeline failure, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) now contends that its stepped-up pipeline maintenance and safety programs are beginning to pay dividends. It is citing a 99% reduction in what it called minor pipeline leaks last year as a positive indicator.

The San Francisco-based combination utility is touting some marine-based technology for detecting pipeline leaks under water. It plans to showcase a new surveying technology it has in place using boats and state-of-the-art leak-detection equipment.

PG&E has scheduled demonstrations of the new technology on Wednesday in the Sacramento River Delta in the far-northeast corner of the East San Francisco Bay.

“We will demonstrate how extremely sensitive leak detection tools are deployed for our pipelines below the water’s surface,” a utility spokesperson said. The technology is used to monitor and maintain natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines on riverbeds up to 60 feet below the water surface, the spokesperson said.

Two years ago PG&E and a Silicon Valley maker of measurement instruments unveiled their work on a technology for more accurately detecting natural gas pipeline leaks. At the time, PG&E billed itself as the first utility in the nation to begin applying the new equipment in its upgraded pipeline safety programs (see Daily GPI, Feb. 3, 2012).

Santa Clara, CA-based Picarro Inc. developed the “Picarro Surveyor,” and the San Francisco-based combination utility has since deployed the instruments in ongoing pipeline system monitoring.

Then, earlier this year, a PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) report described a “new norm” in natural gas pipeline safety programs requiring workers to apply a “proactive, sustainable approach” to identifying leaks in the system. It calls for a “cultural transformation” in pipeline operators (see Daily GPI, June 2).

Citing greatly advanced leak detection technology, the report concluded that the question for operators is how to most effectively deploy the new tools to become what it called “a key enabler of pipeline safety” in PwC’s “Beyond Compliance: Creating a new norm in leak management.”

PG&E contends to its critics that it is now deploying “industry-leading” advances to its pipeline system, enhancing public safety in the process. For support, it cites the big reduction in minor leaks detected for all of 2013. And more recently, its gas system performance in the wake of a 6.0 earthquake in Sonoma County in late August is cited as a further positive sign (see Daily GPI, Sept. 4).