Giant machine sliding underneath thousands of San Diego homes to inspect natural gas lines

SDG&E using Smart PIG to keep San Diego safe

CARLSBAD, Calif. - In the next few days, a giant machine will be sliding underneath thousands of San Diego County homes to make sure local natural gas lines are safe.

San Diego Gas & Electric will be deploying its Smart P.I.G. (Pipeline Integrity Gauge), which some would say looks like half of a pod racer vehicle from the movie "Star Wars Episode I."

SDG&E uses the heavy machine to inspect hundreds of miles of natural gas transmission lines.

"It allows us to make sure the pipe is operating with integrity and the way it should be," said SDG&E Vice President for Field Services Jimmie Cho.

The P.I.G. will take a trek from Fallbrook to Tecolote Canyon this week. It will be inspecting the interior of a natural gas transmission line that travels underneath thousands of homes.

"And when it's done, we'll receive it and take the data and look at it," said Cho.

Cho said it helps the company avoid disasters like the San Bruno accident in 2010, where a Pacific Gas & Electric gas line exploded, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.

"We do this as part of our ongoing regular inspection and maintenance program. We've been doing this since 2002," Cho said.

The natural gas actually propels the P.I.G. through the transmission lines, allowing SDG&E to keep the gas flowing.

"The orange part in the front (a giant cup shape) really captures the pressure that's pushing the P.I.G. You can almost think of it as a sail," described Cho. "And then all the other components you see here are the sensors."

Those sensors drag along the inside of the pipe looking for imperfections or anything that could disrupt a resource we all use every day.

"[Natural gas] heats the homes, provides hot water for us, cooks," said Cho.

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