LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Southwest Gas customers might be on the hook for replacing pipes in an estimated $3 billion project, according to testimony in Carson City on Wednesday.

Pipes that were installed from 1978 to 1999 could be prone to degradation in desert climates, according to information presented during a hearing for Senate Bill 116 (SB116). The pipes, 1/2-inch to 2-inch pipes known as Drisco 8000, have been identified as a risk for gas leaks.

The problem has been known for a while. Legislation in the 2021 session was not approved. But Southwest Gas is presenting changes to how it wants to recoup the cost of replacing pipes, and SB116 is back before lawmakers this year.

It’s an enormous project — an estimated 48% of Southwest Gas mains are Drisco 8000, according to testimony. Garrett Weir, general counsel for the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, said the pipes are considered a risk, but the PUC has not required Southwest Gas to replace them immediately.

Southwest Gas ratepayers have had enough as bills have skyrocketed over the past months as the cost of natural gas has gone up.

The discussion happened at a Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee hearing. The bill is sponsored by Democratic Senator Skip Daly of Washoe County.

Opponents lined up to challenge not only the cost of the project, but also the need to replace pipes.

Christi Cabrera-Georgeson, deputy director of the Nevada Conservation League, reminded lawmakers that Southwest Gas has trumpeted its record as No. 1 in pipeline safety in other meetings at the Legislature this year.

Cabrera-Georgeson and others urged the state to think carefully before committing to an expensive project to continue using fossil fuels.

“We need to chart a path forward that doesn’t tie Nevadans to methane gas and these systems for decades to come,” said Tracy Byrd, who called from Las Vegas to express opposition.

Ernest Figueroa, a consumer advocate, said Southwest Gas rates went up 116% from April 2021 to this year — and gas bills will go up if the company starts replacing pipes. Figueroa testified that $3 billion is a conservative estimate for the project.

Justin Brown of Southwest Gas said, “This legislation is necessary and also complementary to the existing regulatory process that we have in place and provides also the following benefits. It will enhance safety and reduce short-term risk by supporting an increased level of proactive replacement of specific pipe types that are known within the industry to present greater risk.”