Gas crews face growth pressures

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Springs Utilities workers Brad Stiles (left) and Paul Newkirk replace a gas line in the Woodmen Valley neighborhood.

Springs Utilities workers Brad Stiles (left) and Paul Newkirk replace a gas line in the Woodmen Valley neighborhood.

By Amy Gillentine

amy.gillentine@csbj.com

Retirements in an aging workforce, new regulations for trainees and a growing city could strain the resources needed to check for corrosion and leaks along the miles of natural-gas pipeline operated by Colorado Springs Utilities.

The utility oversees 186,000 customer connections and 2,300 miles of distribution lines.

“With the economy, we’re not having much turnover (for now),” said Steve Romero, manager of CSU’s gas division. “But it takes so long to get skilled labor that it could be a problem once the economy recovers, if people choose to leave.”

The problem, in part, is that utilities no longer merely lay pipe in the ground and forget about it. Instead, workers must make daily checks. A crew of four checks for corrosion, and a crew of eight checks for gas leaks along various segments of the pipes.

The checks are made both on foot, walking around property, and in a car, on gas lines that run alongside roads.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has guidelines on how often certain types of pipes need to be checked. Depending on their age, certain gas lines must be checked yearly, while others are checked at three- or five-year intervals.

At this point, the city has enough gas workers to do the checks. But as the Springs grows, adding new service areas and new pipes, that might change.

“More houses — 20,000 for instance — and we’d be in a hiring mode,” Romero said.

For now, however, CSU has an advantage in that its workers are part of its “legacy workforce.”

“They’ve been here a long time, they know the system,” utility spokesman Steve Berry said. “That’s a plus when it comes to safety.”