Posted on May 14, 2013

PG&E’s Jesus Soto Testifies before Congress on Natural Gas Infrastructure, Technologies and Innovations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – America needs to invest in its energy infrastructure and system improvements if it expects to reap the benefits of the abundance of affordable gas, one of PG&E’s top leaders told Congress today (May 14).

PG&E's Jesus Soto Jr, left, joined industry leaders and others at a Congressional gas forum today on natural gas issues. (Photo by Katie Key.)

Jesus Soto Jr., PG&E’s senior vice president of Gas Transmission Operations, participated in a U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources natural gas forum that explored opportunities related to natural gas infrastructure and modernization.

“We have the potential for a cleaner energy supply, greater energy security and – not least – a stronger economy, with new jobs, a revival of U.S. manufacturing, and healthier trade balances,” Soto said.

But that won’t happen without significant infrastructure investments, he said. “We have to ensure that the country’s pipelines continue to be safe and reliable,” he said.

Today’s forum is the first of three public listening sessions over the next two weeks to gather information from stakeholders with an interest in ensuring federal policy evolves to take into account the new supplies of natural gas that have become accessible in recent years.

Led by Committee Chairman and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the forum featured testimony from representatives of key industry organizations, including the Drive Natural Gas Initiative, General Electric and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

‘Lock in the advantages’

Wyden kicked off the forum by saying, “Right now, natural gas is a strategic American asset. Right now, we’ve got it and the rest of the world wants it. It is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, so our goal here is to find ways to lock in the advantages of the natural gas boom for a generation.”

Soto told the committee that 60 percent of the nation’s pipelines were installed at least 40 years ago. Some of that pipe needs to be upgraded or replaced, he said. Others need more sophisticated inspection and maintenance technologies to ensure that they remain safe.

Since the 2010 San Bruno pipeline accident, PG&E has invested more than $1 billion to improve and modernize its gas pipeline system. That work has included:

  •  Verifying the safe operating pressure for 6,700 miles of transmission pipeline;
  • Strength testing more than 435 miles of pipeline;
  • Replacing 45 miles of pipeline and upgrading another 78 miles;
  • Installing 67 automatic shut-off valves.

And much of PG&E’s office-based gas operation staff now works in the Bishop Ranch complex in San Ramon where a state-of-the-art control and dispatch center is under construction and scheduled to go into operation this summer.

Technological innovations

Technology is a key enabler to providing safe, reliable and affordable gas service to America’s homes and businesses that depend on it every day, Soto said. He pointed to two innovative, safety-enhancing examples in use by PG&E, including:

Pipetel’s Explorer: This self-propelled, battery-powered robot travels through a gas pipeline, otherwise unreachable by conventional inspection devices, to identify anomalies in pipe walls. This device can successfully identify, size, and pinpoint dents, metal loss and other issues.

Soto spoke about technologies that are aiding system improvements.

Picarro Surveyor: This device mounts on a car, and is 1,000 times more sensitive than traditional leak detection equipment, so we can find problems much faster and more efficiently. We were the first utility to start using this device, and it’s been a tremendous success. (Click here to watch a Currents video showing Picarro in action.)

Regarding technology, Wyden asked witnesses to comment on their experience with what he called “the industrial internet,” or enabling advanced industrial technologies.

Soto replied, “A slight twist on the industrial internet for PG&E is being able to leverage information to make decisions. That is, as the data collection comes in, we are able to integrate all of that information and leverage geographical information systems to make decisions. And, at PG&E, our focus is to make decisions about our modernization program to make our system safer and more reliable.”

When asked about the environmental impact of methane emissions related to natural gas, Soto emphasized PG&E’s commitment to the safety and reliability of its system.

“By enabling technology to help find leaks, we’ve enabled the Picarro leak survey technology, which is 1,000 times more sensitive than the traditional systems that are out there. The next thing we’re doing is we’re partnering with Washington State University and the Environmental Defense Fund on a methane leakage study. AGA, SoCal Gas, National Grid and some of the others are a part of this, so we very much embrace that.”

Wyden concluded the forum by thanking witnesses for their contributions and saying, “There are a host of areas where, if you get it right, you can make significant contributions, especially with respect to infrastructure, transportation, research and innovation, and that’s what this forum is all about.”

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