Managing California’s gas pipeline, which runs all the way from the Oregon border in the north to the Arizona border in the south, is a herculean endeavor, with numerous natural and man-made factors that could impact the system at any given time. Fortunately for all Californians who count of safe and reliable gas, the highly skilled IBEW 1245 members at PG&E’s new state-of-the-art Gas Distribution Control Center (GDCC) in San Ramon are hard at work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to monitor and manage 6,750 miles of transmission pipeline and 42,000 miles of distribution pipeline.
Using a series of SCADA electronic devices and remote operated valves, the GDCC’s system operators perform remote operations, monitor and respond to SCADA alarms, coordinate and collaborate with field employees using a “smart board” that updates in real time, and participate in emergency response plans, as well as predict and even prevent major issues from occurring. Other Local 1245-represented classifications at the GDCC include the senior distribution gas system operators who oversee all operations for the distribution control side of the house, as well as the communication specialists who serve as the central point of contact for all information flowing in and out of the center.
The high-tech facility is one of the more expansive safety-oriented programs that PG&E has implemented since the devastating San Bruno gas explosion in 2010. The GDCC was intended to improve oversight and response to pipeline issues and abnormalities, and according to Senior Distribution Gas System Operator and IBEW 1245 Shop Steward Gilbert Martinez, it has surpassed all expectations.
“I think the GDCC has actually gone above and beyond what the company had originally planned,” said Martinez. “It’s allowing us to monitor the pipeline much more closely – we now have monitoring points that weren’t there before. We’re able to see every alarm, identify dig-ins, and catch emergencies a lot faster. It’s a one-stop shop… and it’s definitely the future of gas control.”
Martinez and his team work around the clock to monitor and document every clearance, assess workload, and call in crews to address whatever may need fixing. And thanks to the cutting-edge tech at the center, if the crew in the field doesn’t have the most up-to-date maps, the operators can pull them up and send them over to the crews in an instant.
The facility also features a simulation room, where the operators can train and prepare for emergency situations. And when major events such as earthquakes, third-party hits on the pipeline, or the very rare over-pressurization events do occur, the Local 1245 members at the GDCC jump into action to formulate and execute an emergency response plan, minimize the impact through valve and reg station manipulation, and coordinate the response by the gas crews in the field.
When the facility first opened, Martinez and his colleagues were not originally part of the IBEW bargaining unit, but they uniformly appreciate the fact that they now have union protection and benefits.
“We came in as management, so we’ve seen both sides,” Martinez explained. “We like the fact that now we can just do our jobs without having to worry about company politics… Someone always has our back, and we feel it was a great move for us. We’re definitely seeing all the positives that come along with union representation.”
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director
Mike Adayan contributed to this report.
Photos by John Storey