Gas safety audits that usually take up to two weeks were performed this year in just a few days – and with no travel required – as our pandemic response continues to drive efficiencies.

UniSource Gas must submit to annual audits of its safety records as well as field inspections of its natural gas facilities to ensure compliance with federal safety requirements. Normally, auditors from the ACC’s Office of Pipeline Safety visit our six district gas offices for the audits, spending several days in each district to examine documentation and records.

Because of concerns over the COVID-19 virus and safety precautions, UniSource proposed conducting virtual audits using an online meeting platform in four districts – Show Low, Flagstaff, Verde Valley and Prescott.

“We met with auditors to discuss the possibility of reviewing documentation through a remote meeting rather than having auditors physically visit our facilities since most of our records are paper files,” said Curtis Asselstine, Manager of Gas Engineering and Technical Services. The auditors agreed.

Auditors selected the documents they wished to examine – everything from master meter customer lists to regulator station inspections, odorant test results, equipment calibrations and employee certifications. UniSource employees began scanning them electronically to a secure network server so they could be accessed quickly during the virtual meeting.

In early November, audits for all four districts were completed in just a few days instead of up to two weeks – without sacrificing safety. “A process that used to take three days for one district was completed in a day,” Asselstine said, adding that UniSource received a clean audit with no deficiencies.

“Doing a virtual review of our documentation met the auditors’ needs, kept all of us safe and saved everyone a lot of time and travel,” he added. “It took a team effort for us to gather and organize all of the documentation.” Asselstine noted UniSource is the only gas utility to complete its annual audit virtually.

“This is yet another example of how our UniSource Gas team created an opportunity by working as a team to build a positive relationship with regulators,” said Martin Anaya, Director of UniSource Gas. “Through tremendous preparation and attention to detail, it was a successful process. I couldn’t be prouder of our team.”

While auditors still must go into the field to visually inspect our pipelines and equipment, even that process is being streamlined to save time and travel for both auditors and employees. Our technicians will be divided up to accompany auditors in the field in each district.

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