Tag Archives: California

Bill would earmark PG&E fines for better pipelines

Two Bay Area lawmakers want to use revenue raised from fines leveled against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. – in connection with 2010’s San Bruno gas line explosion – to pay for upgrades to the utility’s transmission system, saying the move will save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Under current state law, any fine assessed by the California Public Utilities Commission goes to the state’s general spending account, which pays for schools, prisons and other state programs.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would dedicate money raised from the explosion fines to pipeline upgrades. The measure is co-authored by San Francisco Democratic Sen. Mark Leno.

Hill said state regulators are expected to level at least $200 million – and probably far more – in penalties against the utility in connection with the deadly explosion. If that money is used for pipeline replacement instead of general state spending, he said, ratepayers would save at least $660 million.

“PG&E should not be allowed to profit from what has occurred,” Hill said. “The way it works now … PG&E will borrow the money for capital improvement costs and ratepayers will have to pay the principal back as well as interest.”

But the PUC also has authorized PG&E to grant its shareholders an 11.35 percent profit on its capital improvement projects – money that gets taxed. All these costs are to be paid for by ratepayers unless the bill passes.

Hill said that when you add up all of the additional costs, every dollar of penalty money spent on pipeline upgrades will save ratepayers $3 to $4.

“To me, those ratepayers within the PG&E service area are ones who have suffered the most … by living with an unsafe pipeline system,” he said. “I feel that those are the ratepayers who should benefit, or at least be made whole, from the penalties related to San Bruno.”

The PUC has not yet assessed fines against PG&E in connection with the San Bruno incident, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. But the utility’s managers set aside $200 million last year, saying they expect penalties could top that amount when three separate state investigations are complete.

Hill said PG&E is expected to spend more than $5 billion, including interest, over the next 50 years upgrading its transmission system to comply with federal recommendations.

Brian Swanson, a PG&E spokesman, said the utility has not taken a position on the bill but supports the concept.

 

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/05/29/BA9E1OP12K.DTL#ixzz1wS1x3g00

State Hearing to Focus on Increasing Funding for CA Public Utilities Commission

The California Public Utilities Commission is seeking to add seven new positions to its gas safety division 

A state assemblyman will be leading a hearing today to talk about possibly beefing up state regulators’ ability to oversee pipeline safety in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, who chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation, will be conducting the hearing from 9 a.m. to noon in the state capitol. The legislators will be reviewing the increased funding the California Public Utilities Commission has received to strengthen its safety oversight and enforcement over gas, electric, communications and rail public utilities throughout the state.

In particular, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposes a budget of $5.896 million for the commission and increasing its staff to 41 people, which would include seven new positions in its gas safety division and an additional $300,000 to build a gas safety database.

Investigators and critics blasted the CPUC after the PG&E pipeline explosion in the Crestmoor neighborhood because it only had nine inspectors, who were each responsible for overseeing the safety of an average of 11,000 miles of pipeline.

The CPUC has since added nine more safety inspectors—a move that reflects a change in the culture of the commission, according to a staff report that explained the increased funding.

The “CPUC admits that policy objectives took priority over safety prior to the San Bruno explosion,” the staff report said. The “CPUC’s reactive safety strategy, premised on the assumption that utilities recognized public safety as their top priority, was inherently misguided.”

SOURCE: http://sanbruno.patch.com/articles/state-hearing-to-focus-on-increasing-funding-for-cpuc

Pipeline regulators propose broader public access

The California Public Utilities Commission on Monday proposed opening up public access to most records under the agency’s purview, a dramatic shift that would allow Californians to view documents detailing the safety records of natural-gas pipelines running under their neighborhoods.

The move comes 18 months after the explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. pipeline in San Bruno that killed eight people, and four months after a Chronicle investigation revealed that the vast majority of documents at the commission are barred from public access, including investigation reports on natural-gas pipeline accidents and safety audits of utilities such as PG&E.

The practice of shielding documents from public view spawned criticism by victims of the explosion and others, and prompted Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to write a bill requiring such disclosure.

On Monday, Yee called the utilities commission’s proposal a “good first step.”

Terrie Prosper, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the proposed change would improve public access to records. “The public should have the widest possible access to information we possess,” she said.

In a written statement, the commission added that its public access regulations are “outdated and cumbersome, and often delay rather than facilitate access to records requested.”

A 60-page draft resolution, which the five members of the utilities commission will vote on in May, would change the agency’s rules to make documents publicly available unless a utility can show why the records should be hidden from view.

Currently, regulations require a vote of the commission before any unreleased paperwork may be made public – a vote that comes after the panel consults with utilities.

The proposal calls for automatically disclosing the outcomes of safety-related investigations and creating an online index of the commission’s available records and an online “safety portal” that houses all safety-related records.

California law now exempts the utilities commission from the state’s public records law, a contrast to other states, where such documents are routinely available.

Yee said the commission’s announcement is a good starting place but that his proposal, SB1000, should still move forward.

That legislation would repeal a 1951 state law exempting the agency from the state’s Public Records Act unless the commissioners vote to allow public access to specific documents.

“The fact that CPUC is willing to do much more than they are doing right now to be open and transparent – I think that’s a good thing,” Yee said. “But the best step is to support my bill and to pass it.”

To view the proposed regulations, go to: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/WORD_PDF/COMMENT_RESOLUTION/162152.pdf 

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/26/BARU1NQEH0.DTL

Calif. may lower fines for utility in fatal blast

A state administrative judge is proposing to fine a utility under fire for the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion only $3 million, rather than going with a prior plan to charge Pacific Gas & Electric Co. $1 million each day for shoddy record-keeping.

A California Public Utilities Commission judge issued the proposal Wednesday, but it still needs approval by the commission before taking effect.

After a settlement was reached last year, the judge’s proposal would significantly lower the company’s penalties from the original proposal made by the commission’s executive director.

That plan would have fined PG&E $1 million a day for failing to hand over key safety records about its transmission lines, including for sections of the gas line that ruptured in San Bruno.

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/02/22/state/n170015S44.DTL#ixzz1nExMbh6d

700 Southern Californian homes supported by jacks are corroding

A design flaw that could affect about 700 homes in Santee, CA has some residents on edge.

Homes in the northwest end of Santee constructed in the 1970s were built to be supported on jacks, which are now starting to rust and wear.

“If it’s dangerous, they need to know about it,” said contractor Art Angelo.

Angelo, who repairs homes, said he found the problem so alarming his company went to the city of Santee to show them the potential hazards.

“I’d say about 90 percent or better of the support that’s holding the house up isn’t there,” he said.

The houses were built by a company called Princess Homes that is no longer in business. 10News found that Princess also built homes in nearby San Carlos and Poway.

A new city policy is in place where homeowners in that area of Santee cannot get a permit to add on to the home or repair the foundation until a civil or structural engineer looks at the home.

Eric Modeen just bought his Santee home and now fears he will have to spend thousands of dollars to fix the foundation.

“I’m nervous,” he said. “We just purchased this house a few months ago. The seller spent about $10,000 to have the foundation repaired, and I assumed this was going to be something I wasn’t going to have to worry about.”

New signs of rust may mean he will have to do more work.

About 60 to 150 jacks are typically underneath each home affected. The city of Santee has created a 12-member task force to prevent any of the homes from collapsing.

SOURCE: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/feb/13/10news-700-santee-homes-supported-jacks/

US Senate approves pipeline safety bill

The Senate unanimously approved a pipeline safety bill that stemmed from a spate of incidents, including last year’s deadly explosion in San Bruno, California.

The measure had been held up by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who lifted his hold after reaching agreement with Democrats to add a key recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Usually wary of regulatory oversight, Paul said he wanted to strengthen the legislation. His initial objection was that the bill was written before the NTSB completed its report on the San Bruno explosion, Paul said in a statement. “While I am in favor of as little regulation as necessary, if we are going to impose regulations, we should do it right,” he said.

But it does not include an NTSB recommendation to require automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves on existing pipelines in heavily populated areas, a response to the nearly 95 minutes it took utility workers to manually shut off gas spewing from the San Bruno site. That requirement has faced industry opposition.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed state legislation to require automatic shut-off valves in vulnerable areas and ensure that gas companies pressure-test transmission lines in California.

“This is a huge step forward for the safety of pipelines and communities across the nation,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the measure’s chief sponsor. “This bill strengthens oversight and addresses long-standing safety issues that leave the public vulnerable to catastrophic pipeline accidents.”

The amended bill requires that older, untested pipes operating at high pressure — such as the one that exploded under San Bruno — be strength-tested to establish safe maximum operating pressures, Sen.Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said after the vote.

“Simply put, Californians shouldn’t have to worry about streets exploding under their feet because of lax safety regulations,” Feinstein said in a statement.

A similar measure awaits action in the House.

SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-senate-pipeline-bill-20111018,0,1199195.story

California Governor signs pipeline safety laws

Six state bills on gas pipeline safety written in response to the deadly Sept. 9, 2010, explosion in San Bruno were signed into law last Friday.

Gov. Jerry Brown said the legislation would strengthen maintenance and oversight of natural gas transmission pipelines and improve coordination between gas line operators and first responders.

“We learned very important lessons from the tragic explosion in San Bruno,” Brown said. “These bills protect California’s communities by setting new standards for emergency preparedness, placing automatic shutoff valves in vulnerable areas and ensuring that gas companies pressure test transmission lines.”

The San Bruno explosion, which killed eight people, destroyed 38 homes and injured dozens of other people, prompted a rush of new safety legislation. Investigations at the state and federal level uncovered a long list of errors and problems that contributed to the disaster.

Assembly Bill 56 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will require utilities to pressure test all pipelines, install remote-controlled shutoff valves in high population areas, and maintain accurate records. It also requires the California Public Utilities Commission to track money it grants for pipeline repairs to make sure it is being used properly, and prohibits utilities from using ratepayer money to pay penalties for safety violations.

“This is the strongest pipeline safety law in the country,” Hill said. “California is going beyond federal standards and being a leader.”

Senate Bill 44 by state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, requires stricter emergency response standards for natural gas operators and improves communication and coordination with emergency responders.

“After multiple investigations, we’ve learned what precipitated the San Bruno explosion and what needs to be done to prevent an occurrence,” Corbett said. “This bill fixes one of the identified problems: a poor and uncoordinated response to the disaster.”

Senate Bill 216 by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco (the district includes Woodside and Portola Valley), requires installation of automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves on all pipelines that cross an active fault line or are located in densely populated areas.

“While much more needs to be done, SB 216 helps hold PG&E accountable and ensures residents are safe,” Yee said.

Yee also introduced a bill previously signed into law providing disaster relief for affected families and the County of San Mateo, City of San Bruno and local schools.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, authored Senate Bill 705, establishing a statewide policy directing the gas industry to make safety its top priority and prohibiting utilities from passing on the costs of safety improvements in the form of unreasonable rate increases, according to Leno.

Senate Bill 879, authored by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, increases fines for violations of CPUC rules.

SOURCE: http://www.almanacnews.com/news/show_story.php?id=9812

Pipeline corrosion issues at Crystal Springs Reservoir requires underwater work

Coastside County Water District officials could spend about $125,000 for a dive team to fix corrosion problems that have closed off a pipeline at Crystal Springs Reservoir in California.

First discovered earlier this year, corrosion damage on the pipe equipment at Crystal Springs has caused a valve on the intake system to remain firmly shut, cutting off one conduit for the water district’s second largest source of water.

Water managers point out the district can still draw water using a second intake pipe at the reservoir, but parts on that pipe are also showing the same corrosion damage. They emphasize they need both pipes in working order to ensure the water source remains secure.

“If one failed, how far is the other one to go?” said water treatment plant supervisor Joe Guistino. “This is a critical water supply for the district under normal years.”

Half Moon Bay’s water district needs to look no further than the South Coast to see the importance of having well-maintained equipment. Last month, Pescadero lacked water for more than two days after its main water pump malfunctioned. The backup pump that was supposed to take over wasn’t activated until the town’s water supply was completely drained, causing a sudden water shortage that crippled the community.

Even in a worst-case scenario, Coastside water district officials say they would still be able to supply water for their customers in the Half Moon Bay area. The water district normally doesn’t need to draw from Crystal Springs Reservoir until the dry weather in the summer months begins to deplete other water sources. In the 2010-11 fiscal year, the district took more than 110 million gallons from the reservoir, approximately 16.5 percent of its total annual water supply. Despite the pipeline troubles, the utility drew more than 1 million gallons in July, all of which was used for irrigation at the Skylawn Memorial Park off Highway 92.

Water managers say the specific problems at Crystal Springs Reservoir are the pneumatic actuators on both water pipelines. One of the actuators has holes rusted through it, causing the device to perpetually close off an automated valve. The same equipment had corroded on the pipeline about 10 years ago and had to be replaced.

Finding new replacements would be one way to fix it, Guistino said, but that will require ordering a custom-made part from the manufacturer. Alternatively, the district could decide just to remove the actuators and leave the water pipe open.

Repairing the underwater pipes is a hazardous job that involves spelunking through plumbing tunnels under the lake. District staff used to access the tunnel system by riding a small basket 160 feet down a well shaft, but, today, safety concerns have led the district to hire outside professionals to handle any maintenance work.

Guistino estimated the water district could complete the repairs by next year.

SOURCE: http://www.hmbreview.com/news/ccwd-eyes-crystal-springs-repairs/article_ff5f5f42-df15-11e0-b34f-001cc4c002e0.html

GOP pipeline bill would block pipeline safety reforms

Professionals who work safely, diligently, and follow US government regulations  in the Natural Gas, Oil, Pipeline, Corrosion or Cathodic Protection area of expertise are reminded that Friday, Sept 9, 2011 is the one year anniversary when a catastrophic Natural Gas pipeline disaster occurred in San Bruno, California.  

The accident destroyed 38 homes, damaged 70 killed 8 people and injured 58 others.

But, on Wednesday of this week a pipeline bill offered by House Republicans would block some safety reforms and ignores other recent safety recommendations made by accident investigators in response to the deadly gas explosion.

The bill would prohibit federal regulators from requiring pipeline operators to inspect the structural integrity of major transmission lines in lightly populated areas. It would also bar regulators from setting standards for industry on detecting leaks. Instead, it tells regulators to study both issues and come back with findings in a year or two.

After a series of gas and oil pipeline accidents over the past year, the Department of Transportation recently said it was considering whether to require operators to examine the integrity of major pipelines everywhere, not just in densely populated areas as is currently required.

The bill was posted online Wednesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee is tentatively scheduled to vote on it on Thursday.

The bill “improves safety, enhances reliability, and provides regulatory certainty that will help create new jobs,” Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the bill’s chief sponsor, said in a statement.

But safety advocates said the bill would undermine safety, and the nation’s top accident investigator cautioned against blocking regulators from imposing tougher standards on industry.

“As a result of the investigation in San Bruno and others across the country, the NTSB would be concerned about any legislation that weakens an already lax system of oversight,” board chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement.

The board is also investigating gas pipeline explosions in Philadelphia and Allentown, Pa., and an oil pipeline spills that fouled the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Mich.

The GOP bill is silent on several key NTSB recommendations, including that gas companies be required to install automatic shutoff valves on transmission lines in densely populated areas. The pipeline that ruptured underneath a San Bruno subdivision ignited a pillar of fire that flared like a giant blowtorch for more than 90 minutes before gas company employees could manually close valves, shutting off gas to the line.

PG&E has estimated the cost of replacing or retrofitting its current 300 manual values with automatic valves at $100,000 to $1.5 million per valve, depending on the difficulty of the installation. Federal regulators have also said they are considering requiring operators to install more automatic valves.

Another NTSB recommendation not in the bill is that all gas transmission pipelines constructed before 1970 be subjected to a hydrostatic pressure test that incorporates a spike test. Pipelines constructed before 1970, like the one in San Bruno, are exempted from the testing requirements.

“It’s surprising that right after NTSB did one of their largest investigations over one of the biggest (pipeline) tragedies that this bill pays so little attention to those recommendations and actually steps backwards,” Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a safety advocacy group.

PG&E Proposes Spending $769M To Test Gas Pipelines, $2.2B Overall

PG&E Corp. (PCG) on Friday proposed spending $769 million over three years to test its natural gas pipelines as part of a $2.2 billion pipeline safety program, following a deadly pipeline explosion last year.

PG&E said it will pressure-test all of its untested pipe segments and expand use of automated pipeline shut-off valves. The utility has proposed passing on the cost of the project to its customers, with a $250 million rate increase in 2012 and subsequent increases of $30 million and $80 million in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Overall, the utility said it plans to spend $2.2 billion through 2014 on pipeline safety costs.

In June, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered PG&E and the state’s other natural gas utilities, owned by Sempra Energy (SRE), to file by Friday plans to test or replace their gas transmission pipelines that haven’t been tested with high-pressure water techniques.

The plans are part of the CPUC’s effort to beef up the state’s pipeline safety regulations and improve its own oversight over the state’s thousands of miles of natural gas pipelines.

On Sept. 9, a PG&E pipeline in San Bruno, Calif., exploded, igniting a fireball that killed eight people, injured several others and destroyed 38 homes.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which has been investigating the cause of the explosion, is scheduled to issue a final report on its findings Aug. 30.

The NTSB has suggested in interim reports that poor record-keeping and a lack of safety tests by PG&E likely masked manufacturing defects in the 55-year-old San Bruno pipeline. The agency also found that the company didn’t provide the local fire department and other emergency responders with information they needed to react properly to the pipeline explosion.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been leading a criminal investigation into the explosion, and several lawsuits have been filed against the utility.

In June, an independent panel of experts concluded that PG&E had a “dysfunctional culture” that gave little heed to public safety or the high level of technical expertise needed to safely operate a gas pipeline system.

The CPUC has launched a separate probe to determine whether PG&E’s poor record-keeping violated any rules or laws that might warrant penalties. The CPUC also is considering new pipeline-safety rules for PG&E and other pipeline operators in the state and has promised to beef up its oversight of PG&E and the state’s pipelines.

Earlier this month, PG&E announced it hired a new chief executive, Anthony Earley, to replace former CEO Peter Darbee, who left the company in the wake of the disaster.

The company has said damage claims from the accident could total as much as $400 million, and that other costs associated with the accident could total $1.1 billion through 2012.

In July, credit rating company Fitch Ratings lowered its outlook on the company, saying continued fallout from the accident has added uncertainty to its credit status.

The utility said Friday it will enhance electronic monitoring of its gas system to quickly identify ruptures and replace segments in need of new piping. It also plans to transition to electronic records from paper documents to streamline the testing and repair process.

“This plan represents a clear break with the way PG&E and other gas utilities once approached pipeline safety,” Nick Stavropoulos, PG&E’s new executive vice president of gas operations, said in a statement.

SOURCE: http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20110826-714596.html