Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) has cut methane emissions by more than 27% over the past decade through an ongoing pipeline modernization program, the Southern Company Gas-owned local distribution company (LDC) reported last week.

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“While our current system is safe and has performed well, as technology has advanced, it’s critical to continually upgrade our pipeline system,” said VNG’s Robert Duvall, president. “It is more important than ever to make progress in safety and environmental goals simultaneously, keeping our employees’ and customers’ interests top of mind while also contributing to nationwide and global environmental goals.”

Under its “aggressive” Steps to Advance Virginia’s Energy Program (SAVE), VNG has achieved the methane emissions cut by replacing more than 500 miles of pipeline since 2012, the LDC noted. 

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According to VNG, the SAVE projects complement a recent Southern Company-funded study on how LDCs “can reach net-zero using existing safe and reliable infrastructure.” 

In addition, VNG said that it retired all of the low-pressure cast iron pipeline in its system in 2018.

“The new plastic pipes we are installing are more flexible and can better withstand our region’s weather extremes,” said VNG’s Amanda Bouchonville, SAVE program manager. “Upgrading this infrastructure will result in reduced maintenance costs, enhanced system reliability, reduced emissions and increased safety for many years to come.”

Management said that, since 2019, VNG has spent nearly $184 million on SAVE infrastructure projects out of $360 million authorized for the program. 

In 2022, the company “will invest up to $70 million in the community to ensure the reliability and safety of its system and continue to reduce emissions that will contribute to broader emissions reduction goals,” said management.

VNG, which won approval from the Virginia State Corporation Commission to expedite the rate of its SAVE construction projects, said the faster pace would benefit Southern Company and the state’s environmental goals.

The SAVE pipeline modernization projects “will allow us to continue to make substantial capital improvements to modernize our system to ensure safety, durability and reliability for our customers for years to come,” said Duvall. “Investing in our infrastructure is important to achieving meaningful environmental progress.”

Beyond the SAVE projects, VNG is also lowering emissions by using artificial intelligence to predict third-party damages to critical infrastructure and deploying unmanned aerial vehicles to inspect infrastructure and perform right-of-way assessments, said management. The company is also using cross-compression technologies that capture natural gas removed during operations and reinsert it back into the pipeline system for reuse.

“This results in less gas or methane entering the atmosphere,” said management.