No days off. Twenty-four hours a day, holidays and weekends too, 365 days a year.
That’s the motto DTE gas controllers take when it comes to delivering safe, reliable natural gas to customers. From sun up to sun down, and sunrise again the team is monitoring the company’s 21,500-mile natural gas pipeline system.
“There’s always people watching the system,” said John Sikorski, manager of Gas Control at DTE.
From a modern control room, gas controllers analyze a constant flow of data from more than 4,500 points along the system. Changes in pressure, flow, equipment status and other information are relayed from transmitters along the pipeline to computers and telemetry equipment in the control room that display the information to the controllers. Remotely controlled valves allow the team to quickly shut-off gas for maintenance and during emergencies.
To an outsider, the control room looks like just another office, but for DTE customers the work of the controllers means a hot shower at night, warm breakfast in the morning, and a toasty home in winter.
“We always say to be a good gas controller is part science and part art,” said John Sikorski, manager of Gas Control at DTE. “The science is knowing what to do, and the art is knowing when to do it.”
Here’s how it works:
Natural gas usage is mainly driven by furnaces. During summer, there’s more gas coming onto our system than needed, so we put the excess in storage. In winter, the demand is much higher, of course. Controllers direct gas around the system, moving it in and out of storage to ensure demand is met. The rest of the year, usage varies by the hour, Sikorski said.
“In the morning when businesses are opening, people are showering, cooking breakfast and turning up the thermostat, the market picks up. It dips when people go to work, and between 4 and 6 p.m. when people are coming home, showering and cooking dinner, it goes back up,” Sikorski said. “Our controllers are watching these swings to know when to move gas in and out of storage to ensure the supply is there when customers need it.”