Chicago Gas Systems Modernization Program One-Third Complete

With the arrival of spring construction, Peoples Gas continues to make large-scale improvements to the safety and reliability of Chicago's natural gas delivery system.

The upgrades are the focus of the company's System Modernization Program (SMP), which is bringing safety improvements to thousands of miles of natural gas pipes in every Chicago neighborhood. Many of the iron pipes being replaced were installed in the 1800s.

"SMP is a comprehensive effort to safeguard an aging natural gas delivery system," said Andy Hesselbach, senior vice president — gas operations for Peoples Gas. "Each construction season brings us closer to our goal of having a safer, more resilient system."

The importance of SMP was magnified this winter, when sub-freezing temperatures and extremely high demand for natural gas caused isolated service interruptions in areas that have not yet received upgrades. More recently, a valve in an aging section of the delivery system activated and caused a service outage.

"The recent service interruptions on the older sections of our system are exactly why we're taking a systemwide approach to improvements. A Band-Aid approach simply won't work," Hesselbach said.

An extensive independent engineering study found that more than 80% of the iron pipes in the Peoples Gas delivery system have an average remaining life of less than 15 years. The study concluded that SMP will significantly reduce risks in Chicago's natural gas delivery network.

The modern plastic gas mains being installed as part of SMP are significantly less prone to leaks than the iron gas pipes being replaced. Other improvements include the installation of modern safety valves on each customer's service line and relocating meters from indoors to outdoors, so first responders can quickly and safely turn off natural gas during emergencies.

Peoples Gas launched SMP in response to a call to action from the Obama administration following a natural gas explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people and injured 58, and destroyed 38 homes. Since then, gas pipeline explosions in Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Massachusetts and, most recently, Maryland have resulted in the loss of dozens of lives and significant property damage.

The project is approximately one-third complete. To date, Peoples Gas has converted more than 185,000 customers in 96,000 buildings to a modernized natural gas delivery system. The company has installed more than 1,142 miles of new natural gas main.

This year, SMP projects will take place in 15 neighborhoods, with 60 smaller projects scattered throughout the city. New neighborhoods receiving work in 2021 include Budlong Woods, Old Irving Park, Jeffery Manor and Garfield Ridge. Projects are set to wrap up in Princeton Park and Kenwood.

SMP supports 1,200 direct jobs during the peak construction season.

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