Tag Archives: NTSB

NTSB releases official report on San Bruno explosion

On Monday, September 26, The National Transportation Safety Board released its full report into the investigation of the deadly PG&E gas line explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured several others and destroyed several homes.

Federal officials last month released some of its key findings, including the probable cause, conclusions and a complete list of safety recommendations, and denounced PG&E for “a litany of failures” that led to the deadly San Bruno blast on Sept. 9, 2010.

The NTSB released on its website a 140-page report titled “Pacific Gas and Electric Company Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Rupture and Fire.” The report includes a narrative of what happened leading up to the explosion,

Last month, Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, accused the company of having “exploited weaknesses” in government pipeline regulations “to the detriment of public safety.” She noted that the seeds of the disaster were sown in 1956 when PG&E first assembled the shoddily welded steel pipe through San Bruno’s Crestmoor neighborhood.

Included in the NTSB findings is PG&E’s failure for 54 years to detect a serious welding flaw in the pipe, which finally broke apart Sept. 9 when an electrical glitch at a Milpitas gas-line terminal caused a slight increase in gas pressure.

The investigative board also heavily criticized the California Public Utilities Commission and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for inadequately supervising PG&E.

SOURCE: http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_18979515?nclick_check=1

House pipeline bill would delay new safety measures

As the President considers whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would prohibit regulators from implementing safety rules recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The agency charged with regulating the nations 2.5 million miles of pipelines, the Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, became a target for reform as reports detailed the dept’s understaffing and heavy ties to industry.

Lawmakers from communities impacted by the recent disasters promised to strengthen pipeline oversight in legislation to reauthorize federal pipeline safety programs, but action has been slow, and a bill that moved through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this month is distressingly weak, pipeline safety advocates say.

The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011, sponsored by Bill Shuster (R-PA) requires the Dept. of Transportation to conduct a study on expanding “integrity management rules” for how pipeline operators test and monitor their lines for corrosion and other problems.

Under current rules PHMSA only requires regular testing on lines that run through “high consequence areas” — places that are highly populated or ecologically sensitive.

The Shuster bill prohibits regulators from expanding integrity management requirements beyond high consequence areas.

It also requires regulators to study and report on leak detection systems, but prohibits the dept. from developing new standards for leak detection systems or requiring operators to use them.

As the committee took up and reported the bill on Sept. 8, Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, criticized the measure as a “partisan industry-driven effort.”

“The weak nature of this proposed legislation seems to ignore the specific strong recommendations just a week ago from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the voiced intention of many within the pipeline industry to use the tragedies of the past fifteen months as the impetus to move pipeline safety forward in many areas.”

The NTSB report on the San Bruno pipeline explosion recommended that PHMSA require all operators to equip systems with tools for detecting leaks, require automatic shut-off valves in high consequence areas, require pressure testing for all pre-1970 gas lines and implement enhanced oversight of pipeline integrity management programs.

Shuster’s bill neglects all of these items, Weimer said.

“Just last week NTSB recommended that to avoid more tragedies like San Bruno regulations should be changed to ‘require automatic shutoff valves or remote control valves in high consequence areas and in class 3 and 4 locations be installed,’” he said. “This bill, unlike the bill from House Energy and Power, does not even ask for a study of installing such important valves on existing pipelines through populated communities.”

In July the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power approved pipeline safety legislation that set deadlines for updates leak detection rules and automated valve use and placement, and strengthened guidelines for river crossings, and gas gathering lines.

The two House bills must now be reconciled.

Association of Oil Pipelines President and CEO Andy Black commended the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for “passing a strong reauthorization bills that wisely avoids imposing new regulations without sufficient evidence current regulatory requirements have failed.”

In an open letter, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) warned that the House Transportation Committee bill would block important reforms and urged PHMSA to immediately adopt all of NTSB’s latest pipeline safety recommendations.

SOURCE: http://michiganmessenger.com/52610/house-pipeline-bill-would-delay-new-safety-measures

San Bruno one year on…Consumers will be asked to help pay for billions in gas pipeline upgrades needed after Bay Area blast.

Three of California’s largest utilities are asking customers to help pay for nearly $4 billion in pipeline safety projects needed after last year’s deadly San Bruno disaster.

Power companies and private operators across the nation are racing to improve the safety of about 150,000 miles of natural gas pipelines built before 1970about half of all gas transmission lines in the United States.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which just completed a year long investigation of the San Bruno explosion, found that the older pipelines might be particularly vulnerable and in need of immediate inspection and repair.

To help pay for the work, three main gas suppliers in California have requested rate increases from state regulators. Paul Clanon, executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, estimated that utility customers could see an increase of 5% to 10% in their bills depending on what commissioners decide.

In a joint proposal, the Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric are seeking rate hikes to pay for $1.75 billion in pipeline improvements by 2015, which would steadily increase monthly utility bills by more than $2.80.

Both utilities have yet to seek rate hikes for an additional $1.25 billion in planned pipeline projects to be completed by 2021.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co, which serves the Bay Area and Northern California, wants to spend $2.2 billion by 2014 to test and improve its 6,000-mile network of natural gas pipelines. The monthly bill for a typical household is expected to rise by about $2, and business customers can expect an increase of about $15.

For many Southern California residents, the proposed hikes are coming on top of $3.2 billion in rate increases sought by Southern California Edison to upgrade its aging electrical grid.

If approved, the plan would result in a 9.1% increase in the monthly bill of the average residential Edison customer. Consumer advocates have opposed the plan, which, they claim, is salted with questionable allocations for pensions and pay raises.

The effort to hike rates to finance pipeline projects could become just as controversial.

Consumer groups, such as the Utility Reform Network based in San Francisco, are reviewing the proposals to determine if the costs and new charges are justified. They can lodge responses with the Public Utilities Commission.

“We want to make sure the utilities pay their fair share,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for the statewide organization. “We don’t want them to make a profit on deferred maintenance. They also make high profits. Some of the money needs to come out of that.”

Nationally, the improvements will cost utilities and pipeline operators tens of billions of dollars in the next decade — and that will probably mean more efforts to recover the additional expenses.

“It is fair to assume that the cost will get passed through to consumers,” said Don Santa, chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Assn. of America, an industry group of pipeline operators, including large power companies.

Helping to drive the improvements are 29 recommendations issued more than a week ago by the NTSB. They are designed to improve the safety, inspections, emergency plans and regulation of the nation’s extensive grid of natural gas transmission lines.

The recommendations were announced almost a year after eight people died and 38 homes were destroyed when a defective natural gas pipeline built in 1956 ruptured and sent a huge pillar of fire into San Bruno, a Bay Area community.

Board members blamed the inferno on a long history of safety problems at PG&E and weak oversight by state and federal agencies. The utility is also under investigation by the Public Utilities Commission and could face substantial fines, Clanon said.

Regulators and gas industry representatives say various initiatives are already underway by the government, private companies and local utilities to more thoroughly inspect pipelines and repair or replace at-risk sections.

Clanon said that earlier this year, the state Public Utilities Commission ordered all pipeline operators to pressure-test their transmission lines built before 1970.

One of the NTSB’s priorities is elimination of a “grandfathering” clause in federal and state law that has exempted utilities and companies from performing high-pressure water tests on natural gas pipelines built before 1970.

Another key recommendation would require operators to modify their lines to accommodate inspection tools that can run inside a pipe and detect flaws, such as bad welds, cracks and corrosion.

The two methods of testing had been previously opposed by industry groups.

Other recommendations call for automatic and remotely controlled shut-off valves, reviews of regulatory agencies and PG&E’s procedures, better emergency management plans and more thorough record-keeping.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), whose district includes San Bruno, are now proposing legislation to make pressure testing mandatory and to give the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration more enforcement power. Other bills are pending in the California Legislature.

Industry representatives say it is too early to determine the total cost of the national effort to improve the pipeline system. They added that the overall price will depend on the timing of the recommendations and how cost-effective they are.

Oliver Moghissi, president of the National Assn. of Corrosion Engineers International, a professional organization with 27,000 members, said, for example, that he would like to see recommendations that require more pressure testing of older pipelines but on a case-by-case basis depending on conditions and available information on the pipeline in question.

Under a broad mandatory rule, Moghissi said, some pipelines could be tested unnecessarily.

“The goals of the NTSB are commonly recognized,” said Santa of the Interstate Natural Gas Assn. “The question is the means you choose to get there and the pace at which you choose to get there. . . . There can be a lot of devil in the details.”

SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-san-bruno-20110909,0,648331.story

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.

Proposed pipeline rules could be costly

Pipeline operators and their customers will face major changes and a hefty price tag if the National Transportation Safety Board can persuade regulators to adopt recommendations it issued in response to last year’s deadly blast in San Bruno, Calif.

Top among the recommendations the NTSB made Tuesday is the elimination of “grandfathering” loopholes in federal and state laws that have allowed companies to run thousands of miles of the nation’s oldest and most vulnerable natural gas pipelines without subjecting them to the kinds of high-pressure water tests that are mandated on modern pipelines.

Such tests aren’t cheap – Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which is being forced to pressure-test hundreds of miles in the aftermath of the San Bruno blast, says the cost can hit $500,000 a mile – and they require that pipes be taken out of service for days at a time.

Another safety board recommendation would require pipeline companies to convert their lines to accommodate torpedo-shaped inspection tools known as smart pigs, which are run inside a line to detect flaws like bad welds and corrosion.

About half the nation’s transmission pipelines – the oldest ones – would be affected, and they would require expensive rebuilds. Such lines don’t accommodate smart pigs now because they are too narrow or contain kinks, and industry groups say it would cost billions to fix that.

“Ultimately, the cost of these activities will be put into a rate case and will be passed down to the consumer,” said Oliver Moghissi, president of a major pipeline engineering organization, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers.


Most major Houston-based pipeline companies declined to comment on the proposed NTSB changes, but El Paso Corp. said it is reviewing them.

“El Paso is committed to the safety of our systems, and we have an industry-leading pipeline inspection program,” spokesman Bruce Connery said, noting that the company’s board of directors includes a Health, Safety & Environmental committee.

Woven throughout the safety board recommendations were broader criticisms of pipeline regulators – the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the California Public Utilities Commission – for a long list of failures preceding the San Bruno explosion Sept. 9, including ineffective auditing and rule-making. According to the safety board, those failures let Pacific Gas and Electric Co. mismanage its transmission line and paved the way for the disaster.

“In too many cases, the regulators did not know what was going on,” safety board chair Deborah Hersman said.

Her agency can only recommend changes, but historically, regulators have adopted about 80 percent of its proposed rules, Hersman said. Mandating change would be the job of Congress, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and California lawmakers.

Little of plan included

Pipeline legislation now before Congress includes only a handful of the measures the safety board recommended Tuesday. It does not include elimination of grandfathering, something Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., hopes will change.

“The No. 1 recommendation that should be on everyone’s top priority list is getting rid of the grandfathering language in the law,” said Speier, whose district includes the San Bruno neighborhood where eight people died and 38 homes were lost. She said it was “incomprehensible” that the lawmakers and the regulators would “give industry a pass.”

Industry has lobbied against mandatory pressure tests of old lines and against requirements to convert pipelines to accommodate smart pigs. Hersman said that when the safety board issued a recommendation in January increasing testing, “you would have thought the sky was falling.”

Cost estimates for major changes such as pipe retrofitting or expanded pressure testing are fuzzy because federal regulators have never kept track of where older pipelines are located and how many miles of them there are, the safety board said.

We do know that half the nation’s pipelines were constructed before 1970,” Robert Hall, an investigator for the agency, said of U.S. natural gas lines.

SOURCE: http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/09/01/proposed-pipeline-rules-could-be-costly/

NTSB prepares final report on PG&E explosion

Nearly one year after the fatal explosion of a PG&E Corp. natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, Calif., the National Transportation Safety Board plans to approve a final report on what caused the accident and issue pipeline safety recommendations in an effort to avoid repeating the tragedy, the agency’s chairman said Monday.

“It’s been a difficult investigation,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman wrote in a posting on the agency’s website. She added that “getting accurate information on the [pipe]line has been a challenge.”

On Sept. 9, a PG&E pipeline in San Bruno, south of San Francisco, exploded, igniting a fireball that killed eight people, injured 58, destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others.

Hersman said the board plans to approve its final report on the incident at a public meeting Tuesday, and make key recommendations for safer operation of natural gas pipeline systems “with the hope that the lessons of San Bruno are well-learned and are never repeated.”

The NTSB has made several pipeline safety recommendations over the last several months as a result of its investigation into the San Bruno pipeline explosion. Among them, the agency suggested that the nation’s gas pipeline operators should ensure that they have accurate documentation for all their pipelines, particularly aging pipes like the 55-year-old Line 132 that exploded in San Bruno.

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 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.

On Friday, PG&E’s utility proposed spending $769 million over three years to test its natural gas pipelines, using high-pressure water techniques, as part of a $2.2 billion pipeline-safety program. The utility also proposed expanding the use of automated pipeline shut-off valves.

In June, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered PG&E and the state’s other natural gas utilities to make plans to test or replace their gas transmission pipelines that haven’t been pressure-tested. 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.

PG&E 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.

SOURCE: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ntsb-prepares-final-report-on-pge-explosion-2011-08-29

Mike Feuer Calls Upon Public Utilities Commission to Provide Gas Pipeline Safety Information

Feuer Requests Answers to Concerns Raised by Investigation of San Bruno Pipeline Rupture.

Assembly Member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) has asked the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to provide information about the safety of gas pipelines in Feuer’s district after a devastating explosion in San Bruno, California raised questions about the safety of aging pipeline infrastructure.  In a letter dated June 10, 2011, Feuer called for the CPUC’s assistance in obtaining answers to a number of specific concerns identified by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in its investigation of the pipeline rupture in San Bruno.

“The safety of my constituents is my number one priority, which is why I called on the CPUC to provide answers to a comprehensive set of questions about the safety of the pipelines running through neighborhoods in my district,” said Feuer. “I want to ensure that residents and businesses have the information they need to protect their families and workplaces.”

After the San Bruno disaster, Feuer’s office met with representatives from Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), whose pipelines serve most of Southern California, to discuss issues of pipeline safety.  This session, Feuer supported Assembly Bill 56, legislation designating the CPUC as the state authority responsible for the development and administration of a safety program for natural gas pipelines. Feuer’s current request to the CPUC seeks information that would increase transparency and communication between SoCalGas and the communities it serves.

“I am asking for the CPUC’s help to gather information about SoCalGas pipelines to increase public awareness and promote industry practices that will contribute to safer communities,” Feuer stated.

In his letter to the CPUC, Feuer asked a number of specific questions, among them:

  • Has SoCalGas identified all gas transmission lines in the District that have not previously undergone a testing regimen designed to validate a safe operating pressure?
  • What steps has SoCalGas taken to ensure it is basing operating pressures on accurate information contained in its records?
  • Where are the high consequence areas (HCAs) located within the 42nd District?  Have residences, businesses, schools and other institutions been made aware of their proximity to the HCAs?
  • Does each high-pressure pipeline identified by SoCalGas pursuant to the NTSB recommendations have an automatic or computerized shut-off valve?  If not, why not, and when could a plan be developed to install and pay for such valves?

A complete copy of Feuer’s letter to the CPUC can be found here.

The 42nd Assembly District includes all or part of the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Sherman Oaks, Studio City, North Hollywood, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Toluca Lake, Universal City, Griffith Park, West Los Angeles, Brentwood, Bel Air, Holmby Hills, Beverly Glen, Westwood, Century City, Hollywood, Fairfax, Hancock Park, Los Feliz and the Cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

SOURCE: http://studiocity.patch.com/articles/feuer-calls-upon-public-utilities-commission-to-provide-gas-pipeline-safety-information-to-42nd-district-residents