Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) has successfully tested a system to capture natural gas emptied from a recently abandoned natural gas pipeline during work in the city of Atascadero, saving the gas for later use and eliminating noise and emissions that occur in the traditional venting process.

In total, approximately 108,000 cubic feet of natural gas was captured – about what 523 homes use each day on average in the U.S.

e standard process of venting the gas, SoCalGas compressed most of it, and then pumped it into three large tanks so it could be put back into SoCalGas' system and used by customers. 

"We're extremely excited that our engineers are experimenting with this groundbreaking innovation," said Rick Phillips, senior director of SoCalGas' Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan. "Capturing the methane we would traditionally vent to atmosphere not only reduces noise or smells neighbors might notice, but also minimizes impacts to the environment. We will continue testing this new innovation in hopes of expanding its use for whenever its application may be suitable."

Nationwide, emissions from natural gas distribution systems like SoCalGas' represent less than 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The methane capture technique was tested as part of SoCalGas' Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan (PSEP), a multi-billion-dollar program that identifies various high pressure pipeline sections throughout SoCalGas' system and schedules them to be pressure-tested or replaced. PSEP also includes provisions to upgrade, replace or retrofit hundreds of mainline valves in the system with technology that allows them to be opened or closed remotely by system operators from a central control location, or that automatically shuts off the flow of natural gas in the event of a large drop in pressure.

SoCalGas dedicates significant resources to improving the safety and integrity of its more than 101,000 miles of natural gas pipelines. In 2016, the company plans to spend approximately $1.2 billion for improvements to distribution, transmission and storage systems and for pipeline safety.