Ace detective sniffer dogs have started leading engineers to the source of the tiniest of cracks in gas pipes in North West England.
Former police explosives and drugs dogs Nelly, Midge and Milly are now at work for the region’s gas network Cadent.
They’re extra tools for the toolbox, adding to a range of methods that can help fix issues with water getting into underground gas pipes.
The issue here is not necessarily about gas getting out, but water getting in. Just half an egg cup of water is enough to block a customer’s service pipe – the narrow pipe (the width of a finger) which carries gas at the lowest pressure from the big main in the road into a property.
These pipes might run for long distances underneath footpaths and verges, gardens and driveways. It is hugely disruptive if engineers need to dig it all up to otherwise find the source.
Cadent heard about former police dog sergeant instructor Steve Foster and his specially-trained English Springer Spaniels, and brought them to the North West for the first time this month.
Over two days, they worked in Skelmersdale, Huyton, Blackburn, Stockport, Oldham and Middleton, looking for previously elusive points through which water was getting into gas pipes.
The clever canines amazed even the most experienced engineers by tracking down small hairline fractures in the underground gas pipes.
David Leah, a repair team leader for Cadent in Manchester and Stockport, who’s worked for 41 years in the industry, said: “When we dug down to where the dogs detected something, it was spot on – or, a foot away at most. It was unbelievable. The dogs are going to be a great asset for us.”
Rachel Endfield, Business Improvement Specialist in Cadent’s North West network, whose idea it was to bring the dogs to the North West, said: “When water is getting into a customer’s gas supply, it can be extremely difficult to locate the source of the ingress. Sometimes it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Water will get in through the tiniest of cracks, which can cause problems for our customers. It can stop gas getting through and they could lose supply.
“We’re determined to find innovative ways to tackle this and prevent our customers from losing supply. I’d heard about the gas detection dogs that Steve has trained for exactly this job. We’ve had them in the North West network for two days now, the first time we’ve used them, and we’ve seen some fantastic results already.”
Steve Foster, whose dogs have worked on over 200 jobs since switching to gas detection work in 2017, said: “Some escapes can be really, really difficult to find. The dogs’ noses are thought to be anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than a human’s nose. So, they can find minute amounts of gas. That can be all you need, the golden nugget the engineers need to start with.”
The sniffer dogs are due back for another two days in the North West later this summer, when they will be working in Garstang, Thornton Cleveleys, Lytham St Annes, Accrington, Nelson and Colne.
Cadent in the North West
Cadent manages all of the 21,000 miles of gas mains under North West England. These distribute gas into 2.7 million homes, hospitals, schools, offices and other buildings, as well as industrial sites and HGV fuelling stations. Cadent also provides the region’s 24/7, 365-day gas emergency service.
Gas has been a feature of the North West energy landscape for over 200 years – the region’s towns and cities were among the first in the UK to use it. Today, more than 80 per cent of the North West’s homes use gas for central heating. And, in the future, the region will lead the UK in switching from fossil gas to greener gases, like hydrogen, through a UK-first project called HyNet North West