Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has eliminated the last of the old cast iron pipe from its natural gas distribution system in an accelerated effort that dates back to 1986 when there was still 847 miles of cast iron in the combination utility’s system.

Under fire in recent years over the safety and maintenance of its gas utility system, PG&E officials count the elimination of cast iron — something being addressed nationally by the gas industry — as an important milestone toward a larger effort to bolster the overall safety and reliability of its transmission and distribution pipelines, said PG&E President Chris Johns.

With the help of industry veteran Nick Stavropoulos and Jesus Soto, who head the PG&E gas operations, Johns said PG&E has “made incredible progress in transforming our system,” although critics continue to challenge the San Francisco-based utility for some self-reported lapses in recent years as it works to repair a tarnished image (see Daily GPI, July 18, 2012).

“Removing all the cast iron from our distribution system is a cornerstone of building a 21st Century gas system to serve our customers for the long term,” said Stavropoulos, executive vice president for gas operations, who set the goal of completing the long-standing replacement work by the end of last year.

Cast iron pipe has been the source of some serious pipeline mishaps in recent years as 3% of the nation’s distribution pipelines have remained cast iron as recently as 2011 (see Daily GPI, Nov. 26, 2012). Minnesota-based Xcel Energy, operator of utilities in eight states, late last year replaced the last miles of old cast iron pipe in its natural gas utility infrastructure with the final work in its combination utility in Colorado (see Daily GPI, Nov. 14, 2014).

PG&E has 42,000 miles of distribution pipelines and another 6,000 miles of transmission pipelines. By comparison, Xcel in its utilities in eight states has 21,689 miles of distribution and 2,118 miles of transmission pipelines.

The California utility, despite its critics in recent years, maintains that it is in what Stavropoulos called “the most comprehensive gas pipeline modernization program in the nation,” and it has gained third-party recognition for its efforts by obtaining international safety certification from global safety/maintenance auditor Lloyd’s Register last year.

In Pennsylvania, state regulators last year unanimously approved plans by UGI Utilities’ gas division, to replace its cast iron mains within 14 years and its bare steel mains within 30 years (see Daily GPI, July 10, 2014).

Currently, the vast majority (more than 97%) of natural gas distribution pipelines in the United States are made of plastic or steel.