Report - Natural Gas Utilities Continue To Modernize Pipeline Infrastructure
Cast Iron Mains Reduced by Nearly Half Nationwide
Washington, D.C. – America’s natural gas utilities are dedicated to upgrading and modernizing our nation’s natural gas infrastructure, as well as to increasing expertise in maintaining existing pipelines and assessing and managing risk. Their dedicated efforts over the past three decades have led to a nearly 90 percent decline in serious pipeline incidents and will help ensure that the industry’s longstanding record of safe and reliable service continues well into the future, according to a new report by the American Gas Association and its member companies.
Using a strategic and systematic risk management program formalized in 2011 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), natural gas utilities employ a careful analysis of infrastructure to identify threats, evaluate and prioritize risks, measure results, monitor performance and take action to help reduce the greatest risks. Not all pipeline risk is necessarily related to age or material, and older pipe can still perform reliably; therefore pipeline should not be replaced solely to reduce the amount of a specific material when greater risk may lie elsewhere.
In the past decade, natural gas utilities have installed updated plastic lines at a rate of 30,000 miles per year, connecting new customers or replacing older pipeline infrastructure. Thanks to these efforts, there are nearly 1.3 million miles of plastic pipe – the leading edge of advanced pipeline materials – in the natural gas system today, along with more than 1.1 million miles of cathodically-protected steel pipeline. There has been a 46 percent decrease in the amount of cast iron main since 1985, and only 3 percent of the entire national gas distribution system is composed of cast iron mains – a figure that is continuously being reduced as pipeline operators implement accelerated pipeline replacement programs. And serious incidents involving cast iron mains have also declined – dropping by a difference of 86 percent between 1985 and 2012.
“Safety is the top priority for the American Gas Association and its more than 200 member companies,” said AGA CEO and President Dave McCurdy. “Our nation’s natural gas infrastructure makes up the safest energy delivery system in the country and is the envy of other nations. This report shows the industry is successfully working to enhance system integrity though upgrades and modernization. As a result, Americans can continue to enjoy the benefits of our abundant supply of clean affordable natural gas for decades to come.”
By managing pipeline risk and replacing pipe no longer fit for service, as well as conducting other improvements, the industry is also reducing emissions from the natural gas distribution system. Improved data from the Environmental Protection Agency and others shows a declining trend for natural gas emissions. Less than 1.5 percent of natural gas is emitted as it travels from where it is produced to homes and businesses. Of that, only 0.3 percent is emitted from systems operated by local natural gas utilities. Distribution system emissions have dropped 16 percent since 1990, even as the industry added nearly 300,000 miles of distribution mains to serve 17 million more customers – an increase of 30 percent in both cases. Continued efforts to upgrade and modernize the natural gas pipeline network to enhance safety are lowering emissions even further. Pipeline replacement is resource-intensive, making it vital for natural gas utilities to have strategic “smart modernization” plans for managing replacement costs through careful planning and operational efficiency. Additionally, natural gas utilities must overcome significant challenges associated with this type of work, such as maintaining gas delivery to customers and working to minimize the impact to the public right of way and customer yards.
With natural gas prices at historic lows, America’s natural gas utilities are using this opportunity to advance upgrades to their energy delivery system, and they are working with local regulators to develop innovative rate models that further encourage the significant capital investment needed without increasing the burden on ratepayers. The natural gas industry spends over $7 billion each year in infrastructure investments. Currently, 32 states have infrastructure cost recovery mechanisms including 4 states which have adopted programs in the last 6 months.