PG&E, which was the first utility to use a super-sensitive, vehicle-mounted technology for detecting potential gas leaks, has been seeing some real-world examples of its benefits.
Recently, in Santa Clara and in the East Bay, PG&E was able to use the Picarro Surveyor systems to detect potential gas leaks that previously had been difficult to locate.
In Santa Clara, PG&E crews had spent months searching for a very small leak on a distribution feeder pipe off the Lawrence Expressway. Picarro Surveyor was brought in and it identified the location of the previously undetectable leak. More PG&E crews went to the site and quickly repaired the leak.
In another example of the positive impact of the Picarro technology, the source of a previously hard-to-find potential leak in the East Bay was found and determined not to be a gas leak at all. In that case, crews had done walking surveys, gone through a lengthy permitting process to be able to do the needed detection work and even had dug seven holes in search of the perceived leak. But, once deployed, the Picarro Surveyor system showed that there wasn’t a gas leak at all, but a natural breakdown of petrochemicals unrelated to PG&E’s system.
“Picarro Surveyor allows us to not only locate hard-to-find leaks with greater accuracy that we didn’t have before, but it also has the ability to distinguish between natural gas in PG&E’s system and naturally occurring methane,” said Steve Redding, PG&E’s director of gas maintenance and construction.
By using this technology, Redding said, “we are better equipped to manage our pipeline network and enhance the safety of our customers and employees. We have felt all along this technology would be a breakthrough in our goal to be the safest utility in the U.S., and now that we are using the instrument in the field, it is exciting to see how it enhances our gas operations.”
PG&E expanded its partnership with Picarro last month and will purchase and deploy six Picarro Surveyors throughout its service area. In the future, Picarro Surveyor will be used in more communities in PG&E’s service area, enhancing safety and helping avoid unnecessary digs and disruptions to customers.
Mounted on a PG&E vehicle, Picarro Surveyor measures and maps methane plumes in the air as the vehicle drives through neighborhoods. This provides a dramatic improvement over the hand-held, less sensitive instruments used in walking surveys.
The Picarro equipment, which includes a high-precision gas analyzer and an online user-interface that provides real-time data on an iPad or other web-enabled device, alerts users and repair teams immediately upon leak detection. Picarro’s patented gas analysis technology is approximately 1,000-times more sensitive than traditional leak detection equipment, capable of detecting leaks down to one part per billion in ambient air while reducing false positives from naturally occurring methane.