By Jonathan Marshall
A much-anticipated new White House strategy paper on curbing methane emissions—a key driver of climate change—credits PG&E with being one of a handful of gas utilities nationwide that are “collaborating to address key technical and regulatory factors affecting methane emission reduction opportunities from natural gas distribution systems.”
The official Climate Action Plan, released March 28, names PG&E as one of five members of the Natural Gas Downstream Initiative, which is focusing on reducing methane leaks by encouraging “programs that accelerate investments in infrastructure and promote outstanding operations, including modernizing their systems and utilizing next generation technologies.”
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with more than 20 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide. Although scientists continue to debate the total volume and sources of emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that methane accounted for about 9 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2012.
The new White House plan, ordered by President Obama, addresses methane leaks from landfills, oil and gas drilling, coal mining, dairy farming, and the gas distribution business.
PG&E, which has about 42,000 miles of natural gas distribution pipes and about 6,750 miles of transmission pipelines, is actively supporting industry leak-reduction efforts, both through research on emissions and promotion of sensitive new technology to identify and locate methane leaks.
Although driven first and foremost by its commitment to public and employee safety, the utility’s engagement in these broader efforts also reflects its historic commitment to fighting climate change.
On the research side, PG&E is partnering with several other gas utilities and the American Gas Association in a study by the Environmental Defense Fund with Washington State University to measure gas emissions from utility distribution pipelines. This effort should lead to publication of significant findings in a scientific journal later this year.
PG&E has also been an industry leader in supporting investments in new technology to curb methane leaks and emissions from utility pipelines:
- PG&E was the first utility in the country to use Picarro Surveyor™, a car-mounted leak detection system 1,000 times more sensitive than traditional equipment, so we can identify problems much faster and more efficiently.
- PG&E rolled out an advanced instrument called Detecto Pak-Infrared (DP-IR) that uses infrared technology to pinpoint and grade methane gas leaks without false alarms caused by other gases.
- PG&E is also using enhanced pipeline inspection technology to prevent leaks, including a handheld laser scanner, an ultrasonic inspection tool, and flexible, self-propelled, camera-equipped robots for remotely surveying the interior of pipelines.
As Jesus Soto Jr., PG&E’s senior vice president of Gas Transmission Operations, told members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources at a natural gas forum in Washington, D.C., last year, “A major focus of our ongoing modernization efforts is incorporating cutting-edge inspection and maintenance tools. . . . We have an incredible opportunity today to reshape the country’s energy future by making smart investments in core energy infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines which deliver huge economic and energy security benefits.”
Recent studies by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council conclude that using best available emission-control technology and operating practices can dramatically curb leaks while saving the gas industry money by reducing energy waste.
As the White House plan notes, such smart approaches to reducing methane emissions across a number of industries “will improve public health and safety while providing more energy to power our communities, farms, factories, and power plants.”
Email Jonathan Marshall at email@example.com.