In the wake of a damning federal investigation of Pacific Gas & Electric\u2019s gas explosion in San Bruno last year, the focus shifts to the California Public Utilities Commission\u2019s pipeline safety enforcement role. The CPUC is expected to investigate additional details of the disaster and unlike the National Transportation Safety Board has the power to levy penalties on the company. In a preliminary report released Aug. 30 after a year-long investigation, NTSB blamed the fatal September 9, 2010, blast south of San Francisco on PG&E\u2019s deficient procedures, flawed integrity management, inadequate emergency response, and culture of putting profit over safety. A day after the scathing report was released a leaking PG&E gas line blew in Cupertino, partly destroying a home. According to news reports, it took the utility two hours to shut off the flow of gas. Responding to the report, Michelle Cooke, CPUC Consumer Protection and Safety Division interim chief, said that key issues were PG&E\u2019s flawed record keeping on the pipeline and its long-term management of records spanning decades. \u201cWhat information was out there, what should [PG&E] have known, and should they have taken remedial action,\u201d are among the unanswered questions, Cooke said. State investigators are assessing \u201cwhether PG&E\u2019s activities and acts comported with federal law and CPUC codes, and whether they fit with safe and reliable operations or not,\u201d Cooke added. The CPUC division awaits release of the full NTSB report and its detailed technical analysis, which is expected in a few weeks. The CPUC is charged with regulating state gas pipeline operators and plans to take action against PG&E, including imposing possibly significant fines and new safety rules. It\u2019s expected to release the results of its staff investigation of the San Bruno tragedy at the end of the year. In early spring, state regulators fined PG&E $6 million for failing to supply adequate safety records for its natural gas transmission pipeline network. CPUC staff negotiated the agreement after finding the utility failed to comply with orders issued by both the NTSB and the commission. Among the records PG&E eventually submitted was a 2009 internal company risk assessment report, which found several weaknesses in the utility\u2019s gas pipeline network in highly-populated areas (Current, Aug. 12, 2011). Federal regulators also unanimously concluded Aug. 30 that regulatory oversight was lax. State and federal regulators placed \u201cblind trust in a company,\u201d according to Deboarh Hersman, NTSB chair. NTSB\u2019s findings not only put more pressure on state regulators, but also give suing parties more legal ammunition. A class action suit is pending in San Mateo County court. PG&E\u2019s San Bruno gas pipeline explosion also is the focus of a criminal investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice, California Attorney General, and San Mateo County District Attorney notified PG&E June 9 that a joint government task force was investigating last September\u2019s blast. State and federal regulators had allowed PG&E to exempt the pipeline at the center of the blast, which was installed in 1956, from complying with current standards. That enabled the utility to avoid hydrostatic testing that likely would have reveled deficiencies in the short pipe segments that blew, according to the NTSB. The 2008 San Bruno sewer pipe replacement project was found not to have impacted the gas pipe. It had been suspected as having compromised PG&E\u2019s line 132 that erupted, which sat a few feet above it. Although state and federal regulatory oversight was inadequate, budgetary cutbacks were said to be a key reason for the agency deficiencies. Staff shortages led to a replacement of government inspections with reliance on company reports, according to NTSB. The CPUC announced in mid-July it plans to hire nine new staff members for its natural gas safety unit although a state hiring freeze is in effect. In addition, a state bill-- AB 56 by Assemblymember Jerry Hill (D-San Bruno)--would increase state regulatory oversight of in-state natural gas pipelines and prohibit use of ratepayer funds to cover penalties arising from gas accidents. National Transportation Safety Board staff revealed this week that half of nation\u2019s network of gas pipelines is not required to meet current testing standards that detect pipeline weaknesses and defects. \u201cSan Bruno is an early warning,\u201d said Mark Rosekind, NTSB member. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America said that as the one-year anniversary of the San Bruno tragedy approaches it \u201creiterates its commitment to ensuring that this kind of incident never happens again, and we look to the NTSB report for lessons that can be learned from this event.\u201d California regulators no longer allow PG&E or other gas companies in the state to avoid pressure testing their pipelines. Regulators directed natural gas transmission pipeline operators in the state to submit a proposed implementation plan this week. Over the next three years, PG&E \u201cplans to replace at least 186 miles of pipeline, conduct strength testing on 783 miles of pipeline, conduct in-line inspections of 234 miles of pipeline, and retrofit 199 miles of pipeline to accommodate in-line inspections,\u201d the utility stated in a Aug. 29 Securities & Exchange Commission filing. Hersman commented on the disparity between the flow of information between PG&E\u2019s smart meters and its pipeline control system. \u201cI find it baffling that PG&E can monitor homes with two-way communication...and its [Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition system] can\u2019t even isolate for over an hour\u201d the location of the blast. The NTSB ruled out the San Bruno blast as an \u201canomaly,\u201d citing earlier pipe explosions in Rancho Cordova on Christmas 2008 and in San Francisco in 1981. PG&E came under criticism for a lack of quality control and delayed response in these earlier incidents as well. The CPUC is considering slapping PG&E with a $26 million penalty for the Rancho Cordova gas blowout that killed one and injured five others. The CPUC also is investigating the 1948 pipeline that PG&E abandoned when it relocated the San Bruno line in 1956. Of particular interest is whether the engineering is similar to the line that exploded, Cooke said. The unanimous federal findings released Aug. 30 wrap up earlier conclusions, including: -PG&E\u2019s erroneous record keeping that noted the gas pipe at issue was seamless, when in fact it was an unusually short pipe segment that was improperly welded. -The pipe segment that blew failed to conform to industry welding standards. -The utility\u2019s delay shutting off the gas after the explosion was found \u201cexcessive.\u201d According to Ravi Chhandra, NTSB staff, 46 million cubic feet of gas fed the flames, which was enough to fuel the city of San Bruno for one month. The safety board made nearly 30 recommendations to help thwart avoidable gas explosions in the future, including mandatory installations of automatic shutoff valves in pipelines. Pending state legislation also would require the automatic valves.