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PG&E Trying 3D Laser for Pipe Safety

Friday, January 25, 2013

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A high-tech laser scanner was recently implemented to enhance gas pipeline safety and detect corrosion at Pacific Gas & Electric.

PG&E announced on Jan. 17 that it is testing a 3D laser scanner to look at pipe corrosion and recently used it to map the surface of a 16-inch gas pipe.

Accurate and Fast

While being held a few inches above a section of pipeline, the scanner produces a 3D, color-coded view of the pipeline on a monitor and can detect potential concerns, according to PG&E. Accurate within 40 microns, the technology can provide information for an entire pipeline section within minutes, versus the traditional manual inspections.


PG&E is trying out 3D laser scanners to identify possible safety concerns on pipelines.

The hand-held scanner is called EXAscan and is manufactured by Creaform, located in Quebec.

"Using the laser scanner, compared to conventional means, would save, literally, hours and hours and hours," said Alexander Gutierrez, PG&E's senior welding engineer.

"When it comes to finding the nooks and crannies of pipeline dents or external corrosion, the EXAscan provides speed and detail far and above the mechanical way of doing things," said Gutierrez.

The company said that the scanner will work in conjunction with other pipeline safety tools to test, repair and replace segments of pipeline as needed, as set forth in PG&E's Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan (PSEP).

"This is one of several technologies that PG&E has invested in and is testing right now," said Brittany Chord, spokesperson for the company.

San Bruno Settlement

However, the new equipment would likely not have found the internal pipe problems that caused the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, according to KGO-TV 7, an ABC affiliate in San Francisco.

The explosion on Sept. 9, 2010, caused a 28-foot-long rupture in 30-inch-diameter pipeline, blowing open a massive crater and launching the ruptured section of pipe 100 feet into the air. The blast leveled a neighborhood and killed eight people. 


The deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion launched a ruptured pipe 100 feet high.

In 2012, the company agreed to pay a $70 million municipal restitution package, in addition to earlier commitments to replace and repair the city's infrastructure.

A recent lawsuit settlement with a family that lost a mother and daughter in the explosion requires the utility to strengthen its gas pipeline safety and keep closer watch on the life span of its pipelines.

"[The family] wanted to make sure something came out of this tragedy," said family attorney Steve Campora. "I think they want to make sure what happened to their wife and daughter won't be in vain."

In addition to an undisclosed payment, the settlement requires the utility to calculate a minimum safe life span for pipes in populated areas and give the family reports on their progress. The family will also be able to demand an audit of the company's progress on the work.


Tagged categories: Explosions; Health and safety; Pipelines

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