Regulators Formally Guide PG&E on Gas Explosion

By Published On: January 14, 2011

Defending itself from accusations of “complacency,” the California Public Utilities Commission ordered a three-pronged approach to natural gas pipeline safety Jan. 13. The move is in the wake of the Sept. 9 San Bruno explosion and a federal report that noted pipeline owner Pacific Gas & Electric’s records on its infrastructure were inaccurate. State regulators bowed to information produced by the National Transportation Safety Board that noted the utility incorrectly recorded that the pipe at the center of the investigation was seamless although it was seam-welded (Current, Jan. 7, 2011). The CPUC is not aware of “how incomplete are the incompletions” of PG&E, said commissioner Tim Simon. The commissioners and their legal counsel noted the agency was unaware of the paucity of pipeline safety information. To address that, the commission directed two letters to PG&E to take action. One requires reducing pressure on natural gas pipelines. A second calls for resetting pressure on those lines after “an extensive records search,” according to CPUC general counsel Paul Lindh. The third prong, according to Lindh, is the federal investigation “to find out what really happened.” PG&E vice president of gas engineering and operations Kirk Johnson stated that the utility is giving federal investigation into pipeline infrastructure categorization “close and immediate attention.” The San Bruno explosion killed eight people. Notching up the pressure, Assemblymember Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) told commissioners that in view of the explosion, the agency “failed” to “hold PG&E accountable.” He added that the CPUC suffers a “culture of complacency.” Commission president Mike Peevey responded there “is fault all the way around the circuit.”

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