Category Archives: utility

Lisa Dundon Certified Green

AmGasMagCoverWebOct2 232x300 Certified GreenThe work sites of many natural gas compressor stations, storage facilities, and transmission and distribution lines sit on thousands of acres of land. Thanks in part to partnerships between the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) and America’s natural gas utilities, the land has become a healthy habitat for desirable wildlife and vegetation.

The cover story for the October issues of American Gas magazine, titled “Certified Green,” focuses on the ways the WHC helps a range of businesses develop good environmental stewardships practices for their working lands. While many of the energy companies WHC works with are already using the techniques they espouse, having a stamp of approval from an objective third party help build credibility and goodwill with customers, employees and regulators. Among the AGA member utilities that have met WHC’s “Wildlife at Work” program standards, which exceed state and federal regulatory requirements, are DTE Energy, Spectra Energy and Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE).

Nearly three dozen DTE work sites have been WHC-certified over the past decade, including an 80-acre compressor site and a nearby 2,360-acre underground natural gas storage reservoir. Deer and wild turkey wander on the site of pipes, engines and equipment, while waterfowl paddle around a lake and an on-site cooling pond.

In 2007, WHC helped EQT develop a plan to assuage the concerns of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the local community when the natural gas producer built a pipeline through eastern Kentucky. As part of the plan to ensure biodiversity, EQT used a native seed mix for its erosion control and vegetative cover requirements. Since 2011, when Spectra Energy acquired the pipeline from EQT, the utility has planted saplings along the right-of-way and remained a certified Wildlife at Work habitat.

Beginning in 2008, BGE worked with WHC to “green” its major hub for gas distribution lines as well as maintenance and construction activity. The 72-acre site now boasts the longest continuous riparian buffer in Baltimore and adjacent wetlands, four large grassy fields inhabited by Canada geese and birds, and a pollinator garden full of plants and scrubs for bees and butterflies.

To read the full article, click here. To see more from the October issue of the magazine, click here.

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Christina Nyquist Announcing the AGA Peer Review Program: Further Elevating the Safety of Natural Gas Delivery

1 200x300 Announcing the AGA Peer Review Program: Further Elevating the Safety of Natural Gas DeliveryOn October 15, AGA announced a new voluntary safety initiative for local natural gas utilities throughout North America. The National AGA Peer Review Program is a peer-to-peer safety and operational practices review program that will allow AGA member companies to observe their peers, share leading practices and identify opportunities to better serve customers and communities. While other industries have implemented various forms of peer review processes as part of their safety efforts, this marks the first time the natural gas utility sector will undertake such an effort at the national level.

How it Works:

Beginning in January 2015, companies from the more than 200 local natural gas utilities that make up AGA’s membership will volunteer to participate in peer groups, sending experienced natural gas operators, engineers and safety experts to visit one another’s facilities and conduct detailed reviews focused on key aspects of safety culture, pipeline and employee safety. As AGA’s Vice President of Operations and Engineering Christina Sames said, the AGA Peer Review Program gives participants the opportunity to “have the absolute best minds in the industry – working professionals who are experts in their field – collaborate with other utilities to help identify what is working well and where there are opportunities for improvement.”

Elevating Safety:

This initiative is just the latest development in the industry’s continuing effort to elevate the safe and reliable delivery of natural gas to homes and businesses. Safety is a core value for AGA and its member companies. There is robust oversight and regulation focused on the natural gas industry to help ensure safety and reliability, and utilities work with public officials, regulators, safety advocates and other key stakeholders continually further these efforts. Additionally, the industry advances safety even further through voluntary actions and continued improvements to delivery systems as part of their Commitment to Enhancing Safety. In total, natural gas utilities spend more than $19 billion annually to monitor, maintain and upgrade natural gas distribution and transmission systems.

How You Can Help Enhance Safety:

While the AGA Peer Review Program will add to the industry’s ongoing work to help ensure safe and reliable natural gas delivery, you are an important part of the process. As a customer or member of the community there are a few important ways to stay safe around natural gas.

  • Report the smell of natural gas immediately to your local natural gas utility. Natural gas is odorized with Mercaptan – which smells like rotten eggs – to help detect natural gas leaks.
  • Make sure natural gas appliances and fuel lines are properly maintained.
  • Call 811 before any digging or excavation project – even planting trees or flowers.
  • Spread the word about safe digging. Excavation damage is the leading cause of pipeline incidents in the United States, but progress is being made thanks to public awareness efforts.
  • Pay attention to safety communications from your local utility. Look for bill inserts, ads, or follow their social media channels to stay informed.

Learn more about the AGA Peer Review Program and Natural Gas Safety:

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Kathryn Clay Our Focus on Safety Benefits the Environment

This article originally appeared on the SXSW Eco website as a special guest blog post by AGA Vice President of Policy Strategy Kathryn Clay.

SXSW Eco logo Our Focus on Safety Benefits the EnvironmentAccording to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the pipeline network that carries natural gas to more than 177 million Americans is the safest energy delivery system in the nation. Even with the historically excellent performance of our distribution network, safety is our top priority and natural gas utilities remain vigilant and committed to continually upgrading this crucial infrastructure. Natural gas utilities are regulated by state utility commissions which are charged with balancing the need for investments in infrastructure to provide safe and reliable service with ensuring affordable energy bills for customers and fair returns on equity that will attract capital at reasonable costs.

Over the course of the last three decades, natural gas utilities have installed modern plastic pipes at a rate of 30,000 miles per year and installed catholically protected coated steel mains at 1,500 miles per year, both connecting new customers and upgrading existing pipeline infrastructure. Pipes that may no longer be fit for service are being replaced with ones made from more modern materials. This concerted effort by America’s natural gas utilities to upgrade and modernize our nation’s pipeline network to enhance safety has contributed to a declining trend in emissions from natural gas distribution systems.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 19th Annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks released in April 2014, only 0.24 percent of produced natural gas is emitted from the delivery systems operated by local natural gas utilities. In fact, natural gas emissions from utility-owned distribution systems have dropped 22 percent since 1990. Moreover, nearly 90 percent of the emissions declines from distribution systems since that year are due to pipeline replacements.

The effort to modernize infrastructure by replacing pipe no longer fit for service will continue to grow. Of the 38 states that have accelerated infrastructure replacement mechanisms, 9 states and the District of Columbia were approved in the past two years. As those programs ramp up, we will see more investment in enhancing safety and further emissions declines.

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Richard Meyer 7 lessons from last winter

Report Cover Art 214x300 7 lessons from last winterIt was the strongest winter in decades. The polar vortex, a new term to most of us last winter, brought a mass of freezing air from its usual home in the artic and dropped it over North America where it settled and stayed. As the bitter cold persisted, families turned up thermostats and power consumption jumped. Across the country, more natural gas was being used than ever before.

In fact, the top five days for natural gas consumption in history took place last winter. For the industry, it was the most exceptional heating season ever. But it was more than just records and high demand for natural gas. It was a test, the industry’s first during the shale era.

In recent years, abundant supplies have awakened broader recognition of new and greater use for natural gas and an expectation of performance. It’s in this context that the industry faced consumers’ unprecedented requirements this winter. How did the industry do?

Simply put, local gas companies rose to the occasion and customers were served. When presented with a real-world test of stability, capability, and reliability under exceptional conditions, gas utilities delivered. This outcome was the result of the planning, preparation and performance of the industry, and of gas utilities in particular.

This week, AGA released a new report entitled Promise Delivered, providing an examination of the past winter heating season from the perspective of natural gas utilities.

Here are the top seven observations and conclusions to take away from the 2013-2014 polar vortex:

  1. The 2013-2014 winter set new records for the largest volume of natural gas ever consumed.
  2. Natural gas utilities employ numerous flexible approaches to supply planning and operations. Across the country, resources were available when needed, which suggests that existing processes, regulatory oversight and planning procedures are working.
  3. Underground storage played its largest role ever to meet consumer demand, a result of investment and contracting to assure supply storage when needed.
  4.  Constraints on systems that feed into distribution company networks can affect gas utility operations and customers. These considerations are often recognized in system and regional infrastructure planning as appropriate.
  5.  Flowing natural gas was available and generally affordable for local gas utilities that needed it. Supplies were bolstered by strong and steadily increasing domestic production, incremental pipeline volumes from Canada, and short-term bursts of liquefied natural gas imports.
  6.  Customers that contract for interruptible service are a crucial component of gas utility supply planning and system operations management during peak days. Due to the exceptional winter, the frequency and duration of interruptions increased in some cases.
  7.  Stable and affordable natural gas prices and the cumulative contributions of energy efficiency helped to moderate customer bills this winter. Continued encouragement of policies to maintain affordable prices and spur greater efficiency will help further mitigate bills during future winter events.

Report Infographic 7 lessons from last winterIn many ways, these tangible experiences of this past winter pave the way for future development of natural gas applications in homes and businesses. The study’s observations reinforce a vision of a stable US natural gas market shaped by the following broader developments:

  • Growth across the natural gas industry – production, transmission, storage and distribution – has laid the foundation for today’s market. Future infrastructure development will be key to further growth and stability.
  • Demand signals have facilitated the substantial increase in domestic natural gas supplies. Future increases in demand are expected to continue this trend.
  • Policies and regulatory precepts evolve with time, and the natural gas industry will face new challenges in the future. However, the iterative process of aligning industry opportunity with regulatory principles has been most successful when it manifests sustainable value for utilities and consumers.
  • The future of the natural gas industry is one of efficiency at its core—in production, transportation, and direct-use.

Bottom line: a new bar has been set. Our vision of a stable natural gas market is predicated on today’s realities of abundant domestic supplies, diverse sources, flexible options and affordable prices, and this past winter’s experience substantiates that vision. Ultimately, it underscores the industry’s ability to deliver and serves as a proof point for new investments in the nation’s natural gas infrastructure.

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