DC Public Service Commission to investigate Washington Gas leaks

The D.C. Public Service Commission, which oversees utility companies in the district, is launching a probe into Washington Gas on how it detects and addresses gas leaks. The move comes after the Office of the People’s Council (OPC) of the District of Columbia petitioned the commission citing, a rise in Grade 1 leaks, which are the most severe.

“We’ve been asking the commission to open an investigation that would look into how Washington Gas Light Company (WGL) identifies these leaks, their plan for eradicating the leaks, and also how they report these leaks to the commission and to the public,” said Laurence Daniels, director of litigation for OPC.

OPC is an independent D.C. government agency that advocates for consumers of utilities. The agency filed the petition last year after data showed a significant increase in Grade 1 leaks between 2014 and 2022.

In 2014, only 689 of the worst type of leaks were reported. In 2021, that number was 1,019, followed by 969 in 2022.

“We are now persuaded that there is a need to provide more clarity into WGL’s leak management practices,” the commission said in its order for an investigation.

Daniels said that concerns about WGL’s aging infrastructure replacement project called PROJECTPipes — and the rise in reported leaks — caused the agency to call for a deep dive into WGL’s leak plans.

“We’ve been asking for a number of years and been turned down,” Daniels said. “But most recently, this year, the Commission did approve our petition. And we’re quite happy about that.”

In its filings, WGL said a new investigation isn’t warranted and that its project to replace the aging pipes will eventually reduce leaks.

WTOP has reached out to WGL for their comment.

Daniels said they hope to see a better understanding among all those involved on how WGL not only detects leaks, but also categorizes them. That information would include what makes a leak rise to Grade 1 from a less severe Grade 2.

He also said OPC is also calling for a more transparent system, such as a mapping tool which allows the public to see where leaks have occurred and receive status updates on them while protecting the security of the city’s infrastructure.

“So, steps are going to be taken to make sure that we can have a balance,” Daniels said. “Where the public can understand where the leaks are, where they’re being fixed, but not expose the utility to people who might want to do harm to the infrastructure.”

The order also calls for WGL to provide information about how it deals with “lost and unaccounted for” gas, for which the commission said WGL has among the highest rates in the nation.

Daniels believes this deep dive into WGL’s procedures will also provide more data points for the city as the city council works to use less natural gas and more electrification in the city.

The look into WGL’s practices will begin in the coming months, though Daniels admits the investigation will most likely take years to complete.

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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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