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Blog |  6 min read

Utilities: Predicting And Preventing Disaster

It’s been labelled the climate equivalent of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the complete outcome is still yet to be fully determined.


What is clear though is that the recent Aliso Canyon gas leak in the US is yet another example of the need for utilities organisations to implement better asset management tools to predict and prevent considerable problems that negatively affect both the public safety and a company’s reputation.

It all began in late October last year when a gas leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility was detected and released major amounts of methane gas into the air.



Infrared footage of the gas escaping into the air.

Initial attempts to stop the leak by pumping fluid into the storage well weren’t successful and it was only in mid-February that the flow was controlled when a relief well intercepted the leaking one almost 9,000 feet below ground.

In that time the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that at least 95,000 metric tons of methane have escaped – the same 20-year climate impact as burning nearly a billion gallons of gasoline or the equivalent of running an extra 500,000 cars on the road for a year.

It’s the largest methane leak in US history and although the gas has a shorter atmospheric lifetime than carbon dioxide (CO2), it is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.” Sothern California Gas Co. has pledged to develop and implement a plan to mitigate the greenhouse gas impacts of the leak, at its own expense.

But it hasn’t simply been an environmental issue. Residents in the surrounding area have complained of bad smells, headaches and nausea with many of these ailments the result of exposure to methane as well as mercaptan, a substance added to natural gas so that gas leaks can be quickly identified and remedied.Exposure to increased or sustained levels of mercaptan can also cause respiratory irritation, tremors and seizures, liver and kidney damage and hypertension.

Due to these health impacts from the leak, Southern California Gas Co. was ordered to temporarily relocate more than 11,000 people from their homes and the company is still in the process of helping residents return to their normal lives.

While the flow of gas has been stopped for now, the flow-on effects of this gargantuan problem will be felt for a long time going forward. 

What this situation has illustrated, though, is how crucial it is to have asset monitoring systems in place that not only optimise operation and maintenance, but also predict an asset’s performance. Thanks to advances in technology, devices like smart meters and smart grids, coupled with smart systems, have opened the door for companies to employ proactive risk mitigation tactics to avoid future asset failure and the associated costs.

Arming your organisation to not only maintain proactive day-to-day maintenance, but use operational data to undertake “what if” scenario analysis and act upon that insight is integral to driving better business outcomes in a rapidly transforming industry.

Could we ever see a major incident here in A/NZ and what can your industry do to mitigate the risks?


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