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Dominion Energy announced Tuesday a major initiative to reduce methane emissions from its natural gas infrastructure by 50 percent over the next decade.

SALT LAKE CITY — Dominion Energy announced Tuesday a major initiative to reduce methane emissions from its natural gas infrastructure by 50 percent over the next decade.

The plan will prevent more than 430,000 metric tons of methane from entering the atmosphere, the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road for a year or planting nearly 180 million new trees, according to a news release.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas, which is used to heat millions of homes across the nation, generate one-third of the nation’s electricity for residential and commercial industries. Natural gas is transported to power facilities, homes and businesses across the country via a 2.5 million-mile national underground pipeline system, the release stated.

In Utah, the company has already begun to see significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

"Since 2010 till today, we've reduced methane emissions by 180,000 metric tons up to this point," explained Dominion Energy spokesman Darren Shepherd. "The goal is to take it from now through 2030 and reduce it even further to 430,000 metric tons that we can prevent from going into the atmosphere."

He said those improvements will help the state as it works to enhance air quality, particularly along the Wasatch Front.

On a national level, Dominion will achieve the emissions reductions by reducing or eliminating gas venting during planned maintenance and inspections, replacing older equipment across its system with new, low-emission equipment and expanding leak detection and repair programs across its entire system, the release stated.

Shepherd noted that the local utility will follow some of those same procedures, but won't have to make as many repairs to its existing delivery system due to the success of ongoing maintenance updates.

"We're a little bit ahead of some of the folks back East in the sense that pipelines back there have been around longer," he explained. "Here in the West, we've replaced our bare steel pipes, replaced our cast-iron pipes and primarily the system is made up of high-strength steel pipes and plastic pipes here."

Because of the upgraded system, there are fewer leaks and equipment replacements needed, he said. The newer distribution system also helps the company in its efforts to mitigate pollution in northern Utah, he added.

"The driving force behind (our efforts) is environmental reasons," Shepherd said. "We're trying to be a leader in the industry and set an example and do what we can for the environment, particularly in Utah where we really care about clean air."

While the local system is in pretty good shape, there will continue to be ongoing efforts to replace equipment when necessary to maintain optimal working conditions and service operations, he said.

In 2016, Dominion Resources Inc. and Questar Corp. finalized a merger that formed one of the nation’s largest combined electric and natural gas energy companies.

The combined company serves about 2.5 million electric customers and 2.3 million natural gas customers in seven states. Dominion Energy currently serves almost 1 million homes and businesses in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, while also providing electric and natural gas service throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

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Historically, the largest source of methane emissions has been gas venting during planned maintenance and inspection, according to the release. Technicians have typically allowed methane to escape into the atmosphere as they work on pipelines and compressor stations, the release stated.

The company has adopted the use of Zero Emissions Vacuum and Compression technology to capture methane and recycle it for use in other parts of the distribution system.

“Instead of venting methane when we do maintenance or inspection, we’re now capturing, recycling and reusing it so it stays in our system and out of the atmosphere,” said Diane Leopold, president and CEO of Dominion Energy’s Gas Infrastructure Group.