Billions of cubic square feet of natural gas flow from basins in Canada all the way to northern Nevada and San Francisco each day, making gas service available to many Central Oregon communities along the way, and officials with TransCanada are working hard to make sure the gas reaches its destination safely and efficiently.
According to Terry Wolverton, regional community outreach specialist with TransCanada, the 36-inch pipeline that passes through Central Oregon originates in Canada and was built in 1961 to transport natural gas to San Francisco. In the early 1990s, a second 42-inch gas line was added to increase the flow to San Francisco. According to Wolverton, half of all the natural gas energy that flows into Nevada passes through this pipeline. Locally, Cascade Natural Gas taps into the TransCanada lines to serve its residential and industrial customers in Central Oregon. In Southern Oregon TransCanada supplies natural gas to Avista Utilities, which serves the Klamath Falls and Medford communities.
With all that fuel flowing underground, safety is a paramount concern, Wolverton said. Industry insiders closely monitor the news for pipeline disasters, such as the deadly Deepwater Horizon rig explosion earlier this spring in the Gulf of Mexico and the devastating gas line explosion in San Bruno, California this September. The gas line explosion is of particular interest to TransCanada.
“We’ll all watch like hawks to find out what happened there so we can learn from that,” Wolverton said.
The cause of the San Bruno explosion has yet to be determined, but Wolverton says the major threat to the TransCanada gas lines – and all underground utilities throughout the nation – is damage from a third party.
“That’s the big thing that we mostly worry about, industrywide and across the country,” Wolverton said.
Private individuals or construction companies doing any sort of excavation – whether they’re building a foundation or simply replacing a mailbox – pose a risk of hitting a utility line, which would be dangerous and costly. It’s why Congress recommended the creation of the 811 line, a nationwide phone line that allows people to call in and arrange for professional utility locators to come out to their worksite for free and determine if there are any power lines, gas lines or other utilities in the way.
“You’ll know where those facilities are so you won’t dig into them,” Wolverton explained.
Even seemingly minor damage to a pipe or underground cable that doesn’t cause a leak right away can cause a weakness that could later result in disaster, Wolverton said.
TransCanada performs regular maintenance and safety checks of its gas lines to make sure there aren’t any weak points in the pipes.
“There’s different technical things we can do to ensure the integrity of the pipes from the inside out,” Wolverton said. Through these efforts, Wolverton is proud to say that the pipeline that passes through Idaho, Washington and Central and Southern Oregon, called the GTN system, has a great safety record.
“The good news about the GTN system is that it’s never had a major incident since it’s been built in the 1960s,” he said.
TransCanada appreciates information from the community if they notice anything out of the ordinary or suspicious near a pipeline right-of-way. Its 24-hour number is 1-800-447-8066, and the Redmond maintenance base can be reached at 541-548-4110.