Southern Company Gas knows that being a leader in the natural gas industry means making significant investments of our time, energy and resources into innovation. We are focused on innovation that improves safety, which is always at the core of what we do.
Safety is our number one value and ensuring the safety of our employees, our customers and our communities is therefore our highest priority. That means knowing the critical risks that we encounter on our jobs every day and taking steps to mitigate those risks. It also includes being a learning organization that thinks about near misses and incidents that do happen so that we can make changes that prevent even worse cases in the future.
In April 2019, the American Gas Association awarded Southern Company Gas the Accident Prevention Certificate for achieving one of the lowest DART (Days Away, Restricted or Transferred) incident rates in the country for the year 2018. This OSHA metric is used largely by industry health and safety departments to identify and resolve safety hazards and risks in the workplace by better understanding the impact of each incident.
One of the ways we’ve supported continuous innovation in the safe delivery of natural gas is through voluntary actions we’ve taken.
• Working with the state’s Public Service Commission, our Georgia natural gas utility achieved a milestone as one of the first in the nation to proactively replace pipelines that were at a higher risk for leaks or were no longer fit for service. We completed replacement of all cast iron and unprotected steel pipe in 2013, and all pre-1974 vintage plastic pipe in 2017. By the end of 2019, we will have completed retirement of all cast iron pipes in the remainder of our system and will have replaced more than 800 miles of vintage plastic pipe.
• Our two largest natural gas utilities participated in the AGA Peer Review program, a voluntary safety and operation practices program that allows participating companies to be reviewed by their peers, share leading practices and receive valuable feedback to help enhance safety and efficiencies.
Another way Southern Company Gas supports innovation in technologies that enhance safety is through partnerships with key vendors.
• To improve field data collection, we’ve partnered with mobile app provider, LocusView, to pilot a paperless process for capturing and validating construction as-built data in real-time. The app uses GPS, barcode scanning and sensors to automate project drawings and promote data quality while reducing manual entry. Additionally, we are working with LocusView to develop hardware for locating. The hardware works by enabling latent collection of high-accuracy GPS data during normal pipe locating to integrate with, and improve, the existing asset data within GIS. This continuously improving positional accuracy will iteratively improve safety functions like asset protection.
• Another innovation in excavation safety is our partnership with AI-powered software company, Urbint, to create AI models that assign a probabilistic risk ranking to individual locate requests. The predictive models generate a list of excavation sites that are potentially damage-prone. An engagement with Urbint confirmed almost 50% of damages to 1/20 of the ticket population.
For Southern Company Gas, safety innovation is integrated into our planning and processes, which includes performing extremely well during times of high stress and demand and demonstrating system reliability and resilience in extreme weather conditions.
• For two days this past January in northern Illinois, it was colder than Antarctica. A state of emergency was declared as Winter Storm Jayden brought a polar vortex of subzero temperatures as low as -50F. At our northern Illinois utility, preparations began well in advance. Safety, energy assistance and other storm planning messages were distributed to customers before, during and after the storm. Customers with pending appointments were completed ahead of schedule, as emergency appointments and compliance inspections took precedence during the two emergency days and additional crews were added after the storm. Our utility fielded more than 7,000 customer calls and responded to nearly 1,500 emergencies during the event. No major services outages occurred in the system, and our utility broke its own record in output, with safe and reliable delivery of 4.8 million dekatherms of natural gas service to its 2.2 million customers.
Southern Company Gas is committed to the research and innovation needed to maintain natural gas as a safe and essential part of a clean energy future for generations.