Post by Bryan Cox
, Director of Natural Gas Delivery
The recent natural gas explosion and fire in California has prompted some customers to ask questions about our pipeline system and natural gas safety. While this was a terrible incident, it provides us with the opportunity to discuss the mainly-distribution system we operate, what Avista does to ensure a safe system and what you should do if you smell natural gas.
We can’t speculate on the circumstances of the California incident, though we do know the pipeline that ruptured was a 30-inch, steel transmission line. While Avista operates about 125 miles of transmission lines in Washington and Oregon, this represents less than 1 percent of all the pipelines in our system. Our company is mainly a distribution company – operating about 11,125 miles of distribution/service pipelines.
The distinction between transmission and distribution is a key one. A transmission line is generally a higher pressure, larger diameter pipeline. Roughly 99 percent of our pipelines are lower-pressure, smaller diameter distribution lines. These are lines you would find running down a residential street and to your meter.
Following all state and federal regulations regarding our natural gas lines, Avista routinely conducts assessments and leak surveys. The survey includes physically walking the lines and searching for leaks using highly-sensitive equipment. If any concerns are discovered, we make improvements or repairs to ensure public safety. We are also subject to regular audits by our regulatory agencies.
What can you do if you smell gas?
We also rely on our customers to let us know if they smell natural gas, so we can respond appropriately. Because safety is a top priority, one of the first things our phone system will ask you is: “Are you calling about a natural gas leak?”
If you smell natural gas (which is odorized to smell like rotten eggs) - follow these tips:
• Don’t do anything that might create a spark. Examples include smoking, lighting matches, turning electrical switches on or off, using the telephone, running equipment.
• Open your windows and outside doors, if possible.
• Evacuate everyone in your home or building, and stay out until someone from Avista Utilities tells you it is safe to return.
• Keep others away from the area.
• Call Avista Utilities at (800) 227-9187, from a neighbor’s phone.
Why call 811?
811 is the universal “Call Before You Dig” number. The most common incidents regarding natural gas lines involve third-party damage, such as a contractor or homeowner digging into a buried distribution line. Customers should always call 811, two business days prior to digging. The service is free to have the locations of underground lines located and marked.
Given the recent headlines coming out of California, it’s natural for all of us to be asking questions – and that’s why we’re writing about these concerns on the Avista Blog. If you’d like more information about natural gas safety, click here.