Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maintaining a safe natural gas system

The natural gas explosion in California has prompted some questions about natural gas transmission and distribution systems, and what we do at We Energies to ensure safety.

We maintain about 530 miles of natural gas transmission pipe and about 20,000 miles of distribution mains.

Distribution mains are low-pressure, small-diameter pipes that move gas to neighborhoods. Transmission pipes, such as the one that ruptured in California, are larger pipes under higher pressure.

The National Pipeline Mapping System provides a high level view of where natural gas transmission lines are located. For security reasons, we do not provide maps showing exact locations of our pipelines, but we send letters to all customers within 1,000 feet of transmission lines each year.

We survey all of the transmission pipelines annually. We also survey all our distribution mains in populated areas each year to check for possible leaks. Distribution mains in rural areas are surveyed every other year. We also have about a million customer service lines, which are inspected every three years.

The surveys include walking the pipeline routes using highly sensitive equipment to find leaks. Regulatory agencies routinely audit the inspections. If we find a leak or other potential problem, we make repairs or improvements.

In addition to fixing any leaks or potential problems, we have ongoing system improvements. This year, we are replacing about 40 miles of aging natural gas lines with new piping that is more resistant to corrosion and earth movement. Each year, we invest about $50 million in upgrades and replacements to the distribution mains and service lines throughout our service area.

Pipeline damage
Most incidents involving natural gas pipelines involve a contractor or homeowner digging into buried distribution lines. To avoid such situations, be sure to call 811, a national hotline for underground facility location and marking – at least three days prior to digging. Using flags and paint, the free service marks any underground facilities that should be avoided when digging.

Reporting leaks
If you smell natural gas or have a natural gas emergency, leave immediately and call 800-261-LEAK (5325) from another location.

Listen to natural gas safety segment on 620 WTMJ Sunday Sip

More natural gas safety tips

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