Posted on November 1, 2013

VIDEO: Peninsula Helicopter Patrols Help Prevent Gas Pipeline Dig-Ins

By David Kligman

SAN CARLOS — PG&E has begun daily helicopter patrols over the San Francisco Peninsula as an additional measure to prevent construction accidents on gas transmission pipelines and to continue providing reliable service to customers.

In a photo taken this morning, a PG&E crew flies over the Peninsula spotting construction projects. Spotter Paul Bonini of Frontline Energy Services looks for construction crews digging near underground gas pipelines. (Photo by David Wood.)

The daily flights are conducted over about 106 miles of pipelines from San Francisco to San Jose.

Crews, including a pilot and a spotter, fly approximately 500 feet above four PG&E gas transmission pipelines. The spotter uses a GPS-enabled tablet with GIS mapping data to locate new construction projects near pipelines. Photographs are taken of the construction via a camera mounted on the helicopter to make sure that all utility pipelines have been located and marked, and that proper excavation techniques are being followed.

After the helicopter lands, the crews review what they’ve seen and PG&E personnel are sent to construction sites to verify that all the rules are being followed, including calling 811 so all underground utility lines can be marked.

“Some of these companies will call into 811 and then start digging without allowing for the two-day notice so crews can mark the lines,” said David Wood, who oversees pipeline aerial patrols for PG&E. “It doesn’t give us time to do what’s needed.”

PG&E's David Wood, left, goes over pipeline patrol data with Paul Bonini of Frontline Energy Services. (Photo by David Kligman.)

Today (Nov. 1), during a flight between San Francisco and San Carlos, the helicopter crews spotted five construction projects that required additional investigation.

One, where three workers were starting to excavate in the middle of a street in a neighborhood as part of a sewer project, was identified as one that needed to be checked out immediately. PG&E personnel visited the site and found that the work was occurring too close to the pipeline. The crew stopped its work for the day and will work in conjunction with PG&E to make sure the project is conducted safely going forward.

The cost of these additional patrols, which may be as high as $200,000, will be covered by shareholders to help ensure customers continue to receive natural gas to their homes and businesses while Line 147, one of PG&E’s pipelines, continues to operate at a reduced pressure. PG&E also is performing pipeline maintenance on the Peninsula, which highlights the need for these additional precautions.

“This is an extra effort we’re making,” said Wood. PG&E flies over all of its transmission lines every month – covering about 11,000 miles – but these daily flights over the Peninsula are in addition to that work.

PG&E's David Wood, left, talks to a construction crew working near a pipeline today in a residential neighborhood in San Mateo. (Photo by David Kligman.)

“We’re not interested in finding people breaking the rules,” Wood said. “We’re looking to confirm people are following state law and ensuring best practices that keep everyone safe.”

Today, Wood was flying with Paul Bonini of Frontline Energy Services.

(Click here to watch a Currents video about a contractor who now makes sure to call 811 before starting any digging project. PG&E also has been active throughout its service area in creating Call 811 Task Forces to help boost awareness of how important this is in preventing injuries and other consequences of dig-ins.)

To read more about PG&E’s efforts to improve the safety of its gas system, click www.pge.com/seeourprogress.

Email David Kligman at david.kligman@pge.com.

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