Utility company saves lives with the help of a helicopter

May 12, 2016 6:06 PM by News Staff

PG&E employees are taking to the sky this week to perform a much needed service along the company's gas lines in the north state.

Logging hundreds of miles in just one day, the air crews of PG&E aerial pipeline patrols fly high above the pipelines to ensure construction crews and other workers are kept safe while digging next to gas lines.

It's one of the most unique views of the North State, flying 500 feet above the ground in a helicopter.

And from this high vantage point the pilots and observers of PG&E aerial pipeline patrols use it to be on the lookout for construction crews that might be digging too close to gas lines.

“We cover the pipeline system,” said David Wood, Aerial Pipeline Patrol Supervisor. ”It’s 7,000 miles of natural gas transmission high pressure pipeline all the way from the Oregon border to the Arizona border.”

And that's where the helicopter comes in, this aircraft allows crews to observe more pipeline then they could on the ground.

“These airborne assets can see 60 and a hundred miles of pipe an hour and if we were trying to do it on the ground either by walking through the right of ways or driving it could be very slow,” Wood said.

The crews are often kept small, with only a pilot and an observer who keeps track of the pipeline using a program on a tablet.

On Wednesday’s patrol, the aerial crew spotted two excavators digging a mere feet away from the gas lines. The crew radioed to a ground patrol who then made contact with the construction crews.

“I strategically have centralized ground patrols in the area which I deployed and the site was mostly excavation over our pipeline,” said Hector Perez, ground patrol supervisor. “A PG&E standby was on site so we reported that.”

Wood says these patrols are crucial to keeping residents in California safe as the patrols help prevent dig-ins to the gas line.

“We have way too many dig-ins in the last year,” Wood said. “We had almost 1900 in the whole gas system the distribution at the lower pressure but we had a few unfortunate dig-ins on the transmission system. We’re trying to add safety while keeping it affordable as we can.”

PG&E spokespeople are adamant about north state residents calling 811 before starting any project to ensure it doesn't interfere with the pipeline.

"When you're in your own yard you want to give 811 a call," said Paul Moreno, PG&E spokesman. "That way you can avoid damaging gas and water lines in your yard."

Wood said the crews will be back in the north state in June as PG&E will be testing a major gas line north of Redding.


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