A year after the fatal Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) San Bruno, CA, pipeline rupture, California’s two other state-regulated pipe operators offer a marked contrast when it comes to safety practices. They vary greatly from each other as well as from PG&E.

Las Vegas, NV-based Southwest Gas Corp. operates only 15.4 miles of transmission pipelines in California, and under its plan submitted late in August to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), it plans to replace 7.1 miles for which there are no clear pressure test records available. Sempra Energy’s two California utilities, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E) operate more than 4,000 miles of transmission pipelines, along with another 97,000 of distribution main and service pipes connected to more than six million meters.

The utility pipeline safety plans were mandated by the CPUC last June (see Daily GPI, June 10), and hearings are expected to be held on all of the utility pipeline plans this fall. Sempra officials have speculated that a final determination by state regulators will most likely not come until last next year.

While Southwest Gas estimates about a $7.6 million cost to its proposed pipeline to replace and automate remote control valve installations, SoCalGas/SDG&E are estimating a $1.68 billion cost over the next four years (2012-15) for its pipeline safety enhancement plan, which is more on the scale of PG&E’s $1.9 billion submittal (see Daily GPI, Aug. 30).

The Sempra utilities plan said the gas industry generally is doing a lot of reassessment of pipeline safety standards and best practices. As such, it proposes to work with the CPUC staff to determine the criteria for cases in which neither pressure testing nor replacement are necessary. Instead, SoCalGas and SDG&E are suggesting reductions in operating pressures on given segments of pipeline be implemented.

“Such a standard could potentially reduce pipeline safety implementation costs for customers while providing equivalent safety benefits,” the utilities said.

Sempra CFO Mark Snell said Wednesday at the Barclays Capital Energy-Power Conference that the state-mandated pipeline safety project is the company’s largest long-term capital expansion project, spreading over three phases and up to 20 years. The first five years involving 1,200 miles of pipeline (Phase 1A) will be complemented by a second five-year period (Phase 1B) covering 2,400 additional miles of transmission pipeline in less-populated areas (2016-20).

Southwest Gas proposes to finish its work by the end of next year, concluding that although its 7.1-mile Victor Valley transmission pipeline system about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles has been operating safely for 54 years, “it does not meet the CPUC’s pressure testing requirements.” Thus, Southwest is proposing to replace it.

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