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Regulators eye 'lost' natural gas

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

State utility regulators on Thursday approved new steps to help ensure gas customers aren't paying for gas they never use.

The Public Utility Commission set new limits on the amount of natural gas that utility companies can lose, and set a new formula for those companies to calculate how much gas they have lost. Lost and unaccounted for gas wastes between $25.5 million and $131 million for consumers statewide, according to the commission.

Pipe leaks, faulty meters, emergency releases and several other issues cause most utilities in Pennsylvania to lose between 3 and 5 percent of their gas a year, although some are improving, commission data shows. The new rules will push them further and get them to focus on the biggest safety issue, gas that leaks out of faulty pipes, said Tanya J. McCloskey, the state's acting consumer advocate.

“It should provide an appropriate signal to the utilities to address lost and unaccounted for gas,” she said. “The higher the level (of lost gas), the more the charge is to other customers. So by lowering it, it should lower the rates for all customers.”

The commission is first creating one formula for companies to determine how much they have lost, replacing three different formulas the utilities now use. It streamlines the commission's oversight system, ensuring all the utilities are working by the same rules, commission spokeswoman Erika Dominick said.

The commission will allow the utilities to not count gas lost from construction, emergency purging, storage leaks, and temperature and pressure adjustments against themselves, Dominick said. Aside from that, the utilities will have to limit their lost and unaccounted for gas to 5 percent in 2014, shrinking to 3 percent by 2018.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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