A call for an investigation into Washington Gas over aging pipe replacement project

Since 2014, Washington Gas Light Company has been working to replace the D.C.’s aging gas pipelines in a project called PROJECTpipes. Ten years later, claims of more reported gas leaks has an independent city agency that represents utility customers pushing for the project to be paused and an investigation into it be launched.

“Over the past 10 years, that project has not done well … at all. It has been mismanaged,” said Laurence Daniels, director of litigation for the Office of the People’s Council (OPC) of Washington D.C.

The call for a probe into Washington Gas is being made in a petition to the D.C. Public Service Commission. OPC said that since the replacement project started, the city has seen an increase in Grade 1 gas leaks, which are the most severe.

“In 2014, the number of Grade 1 leaks was 689. In the two most recent reports — years 2021, the number of Grade 1 leaks was 1,019 and in 2022, the number was 969,” the petition stated.

Daniels said, in addition to more gas leaks, the number of pipes that have been replaced are below projections and budgets have not been in line with what was proposed initially.

This petition also comes as WGL proposes spending $671.8 million over the next five years for the next phase of the project, according to Daniels. The spending, if approved, would be paid for by hikes in bills for gas users.

Also sent as support for an investigation was a Feb. 7 letter from 10 members of D.C.’s Council, which raised concerns about the replacement project.

“PROJECTpipes does not align with the new, fossil-free future that the Council has charted,” the council members’ letter stated.

Daniels said the future charted by the council would require infrastructure improvements that support more electric use as residents opt for fewer gas appliances and vehicles and instead convert to more electric options.

“The council is very concerned that putting all this new pipe into the ground is very expensive. And it’s also going to be for a network that is going to be phased out in favor of an electrified network,” Daniels said.

In its letter, the city council also questioned whether repairs would be a more cost-effective option to address concerns with old gas pipes.

Daniels said the People’s Council agrees with the city council that a discussion needs to happen to make sure the continued work aligns with the city’s future energy goals, since ratepayers are paying for the work.

“Safety is paramount, but we had to make sure that we do this in a way that is cost efficient to ratepayers,” Daniels said.

The commission has turned down two previous similar petitions, but Daniels believes this one, especially with the support from the city council, will come with a different result.

In a statement to WTOP, Washington Gas said it takes its continuing obligation to provide safe and reliable service to all who use the service seriously.

“We are reviewing and will respond to OPC’s petition as warranted,” spokesperson Andre Francis wrote in an email.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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