Under increasing scrutiny since the San Bruno natural gas transmission rupture and explosion two years ago, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) on Thursday announced its use of advanced pipeline leak-detection equipment.

At the start of this year, PG&E was hit with a $16.8 million fine under a program of citations established at the end of last year by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The penalty was assessed for the utility’s admitted failure to conduct gas pipeline leak surveys (see Daily GPI, Jan. 31).

The new leak detection device is designed to be selective in separating methane from other hydrocarbon gas leaks. “[It] helps PG&E to more quickly locate and assess potential leaks on its pipeline system, and it helps determine priorities for repair or monitoring,” the utility said.

During the past year PG&E has deployed more than 150 of the Detecto Pak-Infrared [DP-IR] devices throughout its service territory in central and northern parts of the state. The utility called it a “step up” from traditional surveying equipment, deploying a simple light beam and eliminating the need for expensive gas cylinders and refill systems.

“It also has the ability to grade or classify any leak that it detects,” the utility said.

DP-IR units continuously monitor several parameters simultaneously. If any of the parameters exceed operations limits, an alarm sounds and a fault/warning error message is displayed to alert survey technicians.

Houston-based Heath Consultants Inc. developed the equipment working with PG&E. Information Technology Director Chris Vana said the leak survey technicians now can “cover more ground, find leaks faster and help our own crews fix problems quicker than in the past.”

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