Posted on November 27, 2012

PG&E, UC Davis Research New Aerial Gas Leak Survey Technology

DAVIS – PG&E and the University of California at Davis are working together to research gas leak aerial detection technology. The collaboration was announced at a news conference today (Nov. 27) held on campus.

Collaborating to enhance pipeline safety throughout Northern and Central California, PG&E is helping UC Davis to develop a method to locate possible natural gas leaks on nearly 600 miles of transmission pipelines — in an area from Sonoma to Fresno — by using a fixed wing aircraft that will fly over pipeline rights of way. The work with UC Davis began in the fall of 2011 with three different test flights over several hundred miles of gas transmission pipelines.

Ian Faloona, left, and Stephen Conley of UC Davis are working with PG&E on a research project to use an airplane to detect pipeline gas leaks. (Photo by Brandi Ehlers.)

“At PG&E, we are working every day to make our natural gas system safer in communities throughout our service area,” said Kevin Armato, PG&E’s manager of asset engineering. “Our goal is to become the safest utility in the nation, and we are committed to finding more effective and efficient ways to identify and repair gas leaks. Testing different aerial leak detection capabilities will help us do just that.”

A research plane flown by UC Davis atmospheric scientist Stephen Conley will fly over PG&E’s service area to survey the company’s vast network of pipelines and identify potential gas leaks. Specialized equipment on the plane will allow UC Davis researchers to detect these leaks as far as a few miles downwind from the source.

“What sets us apart is that we use atmospheric science to solve the problem,” said Conley. “We can do things with a little plane that you can’t do any other way.”

This new gas leak detection technology includes a greenhouse gas analyzer and an instrument that measures spikes in the presence of natural gas in real time. Conley also developed a GPS system to get precise wind readings, which is essential to detecting sources of greenhouse gases, like methane.

“This has positive possibilities for pipeline operators across the country,” said Ian Faloona, UC Davis atmospheric scientist. “If we can do aerial control with instrumentation, it could be replicated throughout the nation and world.”

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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