California lawmakers pass in-state gas system methane emissions bill

The California Senate passed a bill aimed at curbing methane emissions from intrastate natural gas pipelines and local distribution systems. SB 1371, which was approved by 23 to 11 votes on Aug. 27, passed the state’s Assembly a day earlier by 57 to 20 votes. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for final action.

The measure would require that each in-state gas pipeline and local distribution company file a report as soon as possible that would include a summary of utility leak management practices, a list of new methane leaks in 2013 by grade, a list of open leaks that are being monitored or are scheduled to be repaired, and a best estimate of gas loss due to leaks.

California’s Public Utilities Commission would be required to begin a proceeding by Jan. 15, 2015, in consultation with the state’s Air Resources Board, to adopt rules and procedures which would:

• Provide for the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective avoidance, reduction, and repair of leaks and leaking components in CPUC-regulated intrastate gas transmission and distribution lines within a reasonable time after discovery.

• Provide for the repair of such leaks as soon as possible after discovery, consistent with established safety requirements and the goals of reducing air pollution and the climate change impacts of methane emissions.

• Evaluate the operations, maintenance, and repair practices for those facilities to determine whether existing practices are effective at reducing methane leaks and promoting public safety, achieve the bill’s goals, and whether alternative practices may be more effective.

• Establish and require the use of best practices for leak surveys, patrols, leak survey technology, leak prevention, and leak reduction.

The bill also would establish protocols and procedures for the development and use of metrics to quantify the volume of emissions from leaking gas lines and for evaluating and tracking leaks geographically.

These would be incorporated into a gas corporation’s operating plan for its CPUC-regulated transmission or distribution pipelines, or into other state emissions tracking systems, or both, including CARB regulations for reporting greenhouse gases. The metrics would be required to provide operators, the commission, and the public with accurate information about the number and severity of leaks and about the quantity of gas that is emitted into the atmosphere over time.

Intrastate pipeline and local distribution system owners also would be required, to the extent feasible, to calculate and report to both CPUC and CARB a baseline system-wide leak rate, to periodically update that calculation, and to annually report measures that will be taken the following year to reduce the leak rate to achieve SB 1371’s goals.

The bill also would make CPUC consider specified topics in a manner consistent with its existing ratemaking procedures and authority to establish just and reasonable rates.

“In order to protect public health and the environment, we must keep natural gas in the pipes where it belongs as opposed to letting it leak into the air,” said Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill’s main sponsor. “SB 1371 serves this dual purpose by ensuring that leaking gas pipes are repaired quickly and in a cost-efficient manner for consumers.”

California is the nation’s second-largest gas consumer, with more than 100,000 miles of pipes and other equipment delivering the fuel to customers across the state, he noted. The legislature’s approval of the bill reinforces California’s leadership in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change, with the added benefit of eliminating waste of a critical energy resource, Leno said.

SB 1371 was supported by the American Lung Association’s California chapter, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, BlueGreen Alliance, Union of Concerned Scientists, and other environmental and consumer groups. Tim O’Conner, who directs EDF’s California Climate Strategy, called the vote “a huge step towards the build-out of comprehensive strategy in California to reduce methane pollution.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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