Tag Archives: Pipeline Explosion

PG&E Names New Executive to Gas Pipeline Team

PG&E added another executive to its gas operations team to help rebuild the company following the 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

Jesus Soto Jr., who is currently the vice president of operation services for El Paso Corp.’s pipeline group, will now become PG&E’s senior vice president of gas transmission, operations, engineering and pipeline integrity.

In his new role, Soto Jr. will be responsible for four areas for the company:

  • public safety and integrity management;
  • project engineering, design and management;
  • gas transmission; and
  • gas system operations.

“PG&E and our customers are fortunate to have someone with such a strong background working to make our system the best in the country,” said Nick Stavropoulos, PG&E’s executive vice president of gas operations, who was recently hired himself to help chart a new path for the utility following the San Bruno disaster. “We have already made excellent progress in turning our operations around, and there is still more to do. I have every confidence Jesus will play a major role in meeting this challenge.”

PG&E has been steadily making strides to revamp its pipeline operations by bringing in Stavropoulos and new CEO Anthony Earley and following through on the pipeline safety recommendations the National Transportation Safety Board issued following the explosion.

The utility also is trying to get a $2.2 billion plan approved by the California Public Utilities Commission to modernize its pipeline system throughout the state.

Meanwhile, PG&E has still been beset with problems stemming from its pipeline operations.

The CPUC recently fined PG&E $3 million for failing to comply with the commission’s orders to provide records for its gas transmission pipelines following the explosion. The company has set aside another $200 million for pending fines that are expected for the explosion.

More than 250 people have filed lawsuits against PG&E for the explosion, and the jury trial starts in July. The lawsuits are expected to be costly.

PG&E also just reached a settlement with the city for $70 million as restitution for the fire.

Soto said he hopes to help turn the company’s operations around.

“I look forward to quickly integrating myself into the PG&E Gas Operations organization and reinforcing a team and a culture that are driven to operational excellence anchored in public, employee and contractor safety, facility integrity, regulatory compliance and system reliability,” he said in a statement.

SOURCE: http://sanbruno.patch.com/articles/pg-e-names-new-executive-to-gas-pipeline-team

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

Corrosion cited in Alabama pipeline explosion

A corroded pipe has been deemed the culprit of a massive natural gasoline explosion in Sweet Water, AL last December.

A Transco natural gas pipeline ruptured at approximately 3:07 p.m. Dec. 3 with an explosion that could be heard for more than 30 miles while shooting flames nearly 100 feet in the air for over an hour.

The pipeline was shutdown immediately after the failure as firefighters battled the blaze for the next 90 minutes.

“Although we have systems and processes in place to prevent and identify corrosion, our investigation indicated there were multiple factors working in conjunction that led to this problem not being recognized,” said Transco spokesman Chris Stockton. “Extremely corrosive soil conditions, combined with failures in the pipeline’s protective coating and cathodic protection system ultimately weakened the pipe, causing it to rupture.”

Stockton said the rupture forced the company to make several changes in its corrosion control program.

“These changes are designed to more closely monitor levels of pipeline protection from corrosion, assure a higher degree of protection equipment uptime, and provide higher standards for levels of corrosion protection,” he said. “We are also continuing our investigation into this failure to better enhance our corrosion control procedures in the future.”

Williams Gas and Pipeline has also been working under a PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) Corrective Action Order, which details actions required to be completed to ensure the safety of the pipeline prior to putting the pipeline back in service. In addition, he said, the company is taking steps above and beyond regulation to ensure the pipeline is safe.

“All anomalies are being carefully investigated and any metal loss indications will be repaired prior to placing the pipeline back in service,” Stockton said. “Once all anomalies have been repaired, the pipe will be hydrostatically tested, which involves filling the pipe with water and pressure-testing it at considerably higher pressures than our normal operating pressures. Once all of these tests are complete, we will seek PHMSA’s permission to restore the line back to service.”

SOURCE: http://www.demopolistimes.com/2012/02/21/corrosion-cited-in-pipeline-explosion/

Allentown, UGI differ over whether pace of gas pipeline replacement is enough

The gas pipe that leaked and is believed to have caused a massive gas explosion in Allentown nearly one year ago was first installed in 1928.

Eighty-three years old at the time, the pipe was slightly below the average age of the cast-iron pipelines running through the city.

Out of about 72 miles of cast-iron pipe in Allentown, the average pipeline age falls between 90 and 120 years, according to Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

One year after the Feb. 9, 2011, blast that claimed five lives and destroyed eight houses, Pawlowski said he thinks UGI is still not doing enough to speed up replacing the aging pipes.

The public utility company told a special U.S. Senate committee last year it would take 40 years to replace all of the city’s cast-iron pipes.

UGI officials say they have stepped up the pace at which they are replacing cast-iron pipe with high-density plastic in Allentown and the rest of the Lehigh Valley.

The company replaced seven miles of city gas main in 2011, UGI spokesman Joe Swope said. That’s more than the six miles it planned to replace, which itself is more than twice what the company had replaced the year before.

In 2012, UGI plans to replace seven and a half miles of pipeline, Swope said. That would leave about 64.5 miles of cast-iron pipe in the city.

But replacing pipeline costs about $650,000 per mile, and UGI officials have previously said they cannot replace gas lines at this pace every year.

Even if they stuck to six miles per year, Pawlowski said, it would take more than a decade to replace it all, which the mayor said is too long.

If undisturbed, cast-iron pipe can operate for years without problems. But as they age, they become less resilient and more susceptible to leaks, cracks and pressure from street traffic.

The new pipe installed by UGI is made of a sturdier high-density plastic, Swope said, which is often sleeved through the existing cast-iron pipe to create an additional layer of protection.

There are 217 miles of cast-iron pipe in the Lehigh Valley. That does not include 13 miles worth that were replaced in 2011, Swope said.

Since most of the Valley’s cast-iron pipeline falls outside Allentown, this is a regional concern, not a city issue, Pawlowski said.

As of 2010, UGI’s three utilities in Pennsylvania have 11,627.49 miles of pipeline statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Of that, 1,827.197 miles, or 15.71 percent, are either cast iron or bare steel, which PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher described as “risky pipeline.”

Swope said that since 2000, UGI has replaced more than 290 miles of cast-iron pipe systemwide, and the company spent $43 million on natural gas main and service replacements last year alone.

It will probably cost UGI about $4.9 million to replace the seven and a half miles of cast-iron pipeline it plans to replace this year in Allentown, Swope said.

Among the challenges in replacing older pipeline is finding construction crews qualified for the work and working with municipalities to determine which mains should be replaced in which order, he said.

There are 60,418 miles of pipeline throughout the state, according to the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group

Of that, 47,051 are for gas distribution and service, 10,834 are gas transmission and 2,532 are hazardous liquid, according to the organization.

Nationally, 31 percent of gas distribution lines were installed prior to new regulations in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

SOURCE: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/allentown/index.ssf/2012/02/allentown_ugi_differ_over_whet.html

PG&E chairman announces company will spend millions on improvements

Utility to spend nearly $400 million on gas and electrical infrastructure in an effort to repair its tarnished reputation.

Acknowledging that the company’s reputation is “in tatters,” PG&E’s new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Anthony Earley announced Thursday the utility will spend $400 million over the next two years to improve its electrical and natural gas infrastructure.

Earley, who took charge of PG&E in August, spent an hour with the Editorial Board of The Tribune outlining the changes he plans to make to restore customer trust in the utility in the aftermath of the deadly natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno and questions about the seismic safety of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

“We have to delight our customers,” he said. “Our reputation is in such tatters that we cannot afford to just satisfy our customers.”

Earley estimated it will take three to five years to restore trust in the utility “one customer, one constituency at a time.”

He also met with Diablo Canyon employees and urged them not to become complacent about safety.

Earley said the utility plans to hire a new chief nuclear officer who will focus solely on Diablo Canyon. Current chief nuclear officer John Conway also oversees electrical generation and splits his time between Diablo Canyon and company headquarters in San Francisco.

The new nuclear officer will be stationed at Diablo Canyon and will fill an intermediary position between Conway and plant manager Jim Becker. Earley did not say when the position would be filled, but said the utility is looking at candidates both inside and outside the company.

While management of the utility’s largest asset, Diablo Canyon, is ranked among the best in the nation, the company’s level of customer satisfaction, distribution system maintenance and speed of service are among the third and fourth quartiles of the industry, Earley said.

Chief among PG&E’s woes is the September 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people. Investigations have since revealed that the company’s pipeline record keeping was a shambles; the utility just recently admitted further gaps in its pipeline survey maps.

“As the San Bruno tragedy showed, if you don’t invest in infrastructure, you are going to have very serious problems,” he said. PG&E does not deliver natural gas in San Luis Obispo County; Southern California Gas Co. does.

Concerning Diablo Canyon, seismic safety and storage of highly radioactive used reactor fuel are two of the community’s biggest concerns. The utility is in the midst of performing $64 million in seismic studies to determine the earthquake potential of the faults surrounding the plant.

Earley said he supports the recommendations of a federal committee that has proposed the establishment of several temporary regional storage sites to take spent fuel from the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors. With abandonment of plans to build a federal repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, Diablo Canyon’s spent fuel will be stored onsite for the foreseeable future.

Citing the nuclear industry’s need to coordinate with federal regulators, Earley declined to make any promises that PG&E would lower the density of fuel assemblies stored in Diablo Canyon’s spent fuel pools by accelerating their transfer to dry casks. The pools are near their storage capacity, and PG&E has considered as a safety precaution reducing the density — possibly as low as 600 assemblies per pool — but not to their original, low-density configuration of 270 assemblies.

Earley also wouldn’t promise that the utility would meet a summer deadline to sign over property it owns in Wild Cherry Canyon behind Avila Beach to create a 65 percent addition to Montaña de Oro State Park.

“The concept is great,” he said, but added he has not had enough time to get up to speed on the project.

PG&E is the largest private employer in San Luis Obispo County with 1,500 employees. Approximately 1,400 of these work at Diablo Canyon. The utility has nearly 15 million customers in Northern and Central California.

SOURCE: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2012/01/19/1914608/pge-chairman-announces-improvements.html

Congressional leaders OK tougher pipeline safety rules

Legislation toughening safety rules for the nation’s network of gas pipelines has emerged from a House-Senate conference committee, leading to likely approval in Congress.

The measure, inspired by the 2010 San Bruno disaster and other recent pipeline accidents, would double the maximum fine for safety violations to $2 million and require automatic and remote-controlled shutoff valves “where economically, technically and operationally feasible” on new gas pipelines.

Gas companies nationwide would be required to meet maximum pressure standards on all pipelines, meaning that older pipelines now exempted from high-pressure water tests would have to undergo such inspections. California regulators repealed the so-called grandfather clause in the state after a 1956 pipeline that had never been tested with high-pressure water exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.

However, the legislation doesn’t go as far as some safety advocates had hoped.

Only newly installed pipelines will be required to have automatic and remote shutoff valves in densely populated areas. The National Transportation Safety Board, along with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, and California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, had urged after the San Bruno disaster that existing lines be retrofitted with such valves.

Automatic shutoff valves became an issue after it took Pacific Gas and Electric Co. workers more than 90 minutes to manually cut the flow of gas after the San Bruno explosion in September 2010.

“In the grand scheme of things, given how things work around here, there are improvements,” said Erin Ryan, an aide to Speier. “As far as we’re concerned, they’re not strong enough, but there are improvements.”

Research efforts at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would receive additional money if the bill passes.

But the legislation might also restore industry control over the federal pipeline research program by requiring industry funding.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood ordered an end to industry funding and influence in the program in June after a Chronicle investigation.

The Chronicle investigation found that since 2002, two-thirds of the federal agency’s pipeline studies were largely funded by pipeline operators or organizations they control. In some cases, critical studies into issues such as the safety of aging lines were edited by trade organizations that have advocated reduced regulation, the Chronicle found.

The bill in Congress says federal research into pipeline safety must get at least 30 percent funding from “non-federal sources,” which traditionally have been pipeline companies and their trade groups.

The legislation is expected to go to a final vote in the House early this week.
SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/09/MN821MAD7S.DTL#ixzz1gK0ExJ00

Search for gas leaks in Seattle cut short before blast

Puget Sound Energy says electrical arcing caused by a fallen tree created holes in natural-gas pipes, leading to an explosion at a North Seattle house.

After a rare electrical problem blew four holes in natural-gas pipes in Seattle’s Pinehurst neighborhood on Sunday, Puget Sound Energy says, the agency went house to house in the neighborhood to check for more leaks. Its workers stopped at nightfall, without finding more.

It wasn’t until the next day, after a huge explosion and house fire, that PSE did a much larger “leak survey” across a 5-square-mile area, working into the night. Crews found four more leaks, but say at least three are unrelated.

With customers and Seattle residents rattled Tuesday, PSE defended its initial search. Sunday’s testing area — which stopped just blocks short of the explosion site — focused on areas with similar pipe, said Martha Monfried, PSE’s communications director.

She said it would not have been safe to continue the leak survey into the night. “You can’t do residential survey work in the dark, for both worker safety and for the comfort level of homeowners,” she said.

But Mark McDonald, a natural-gas expert who speaks about catastrophic leaks, said PSE should have gone farther.

“I would go at least 10 blocks in every direction to make sure we got all the leaks,” said McDonald, president of the New England Gas Association, an umbrella group of unionized utility workers. “Night, storm, whatever, you go farther than you need to be safe. It obviously was a mistake.”

Storm blamed for “arcing”

The source of the leaks, according to the utility, originated during a windstorm Sunday.

At about 11:30 a.m., a tree came in contact with one of the three overhead electrical distribution lines on Northeast 127th Street between 12th Avenue Northeast and 10th Avenue Northeast, said Seattle City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen. The incident tripped the breakers and the circuit quickly shut off.

“Our equipment’s role is to ground out that short, and the system operated the way it’s designed to operate,” said Thomsen.

According to PSE, the electrical current, conducted through the tree, energized a wrapped steel natural-gas pipe, causing a problem known as “arcing.” The current blew a series of BB- or finger-sized holes in the pipe, according to the utility.

On Tuesday, PSE said the supply pipe and gas meter found at the blast site showed a hole just inches outside the Ingham home, at 12312 Fifth Ave. N.E., about seven blocks from where the power tripped Sunday.

The natural-gas service line to their home was pressurized at 45 pounds per square inch, according to PSE. It won’t be clear until an investigation is completed how the gas got into the home, but experts theorized that the gas could have leaked in through a foundation.

Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore confirmed that investigators determined there was an accumulation of gas inside the house. But it wasn’t clear if the buildup was from the leak outside the house or from a second leak that might have occurred inside, he said.

Two engineers from the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) are investigating Monday’s fire and explosion, as well as PSE’s response to Sunday’s gas leaks.

Dave Lykken, pipeline safety director for the commission, said the neighborhood’s natural-gas pipes are probably 1960s-vintage — with some new plastic pipe — and are considered safe.

UTC requires utilities to routinely check natural-gas pipelines for corrosion. PSE said it conducts neighborhood leak surveys every three years; it last checked the Pinehurst area in November 2008, said Andy Wappler, a PSE spokesman.

In the more exhaustive survey ordered after the explosion, PSE found four new leaks, but said at least three were unrelated and characterized them as small enough that they would be treated as scheduled — rather than emergency — repairs in a different situation. The other leak remains under investigation.

A third survey began Tuesday, and a fourth is planned.

SOURCE: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016332869_gasleak28m.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.

Regulators weigh more rules for natural gas pipelines

(Reuters) – U.S. regulators sought public input on Wednesday about the need for increased oversight of the country’s natural gas pipelines, as part of a push to strengthen safety after several deadly accidents.

The U.S. Transportation Department asked for comments about whether certain regulatory exemptions for pipelines built before 1970 should be eliminated and whether rules regarding pipeline integrity should be expanded.

“Incidents with significant consequences continue to occur on gas transmission pipelines, and this action will help us determine whether new requirements are needed to increase safety,” Cynthia Quarterman, head of the department’s pipeline oversight agency, said in a statement.

A 2.5-million-mile (4-million-km) network of pipelines crisscrosses the United States, carrying everything from crude oil to natural gas to refined products such as gasoline and jet fuel.

The department launched an oil and gas pipeline safety initiative in April after a series of high-profile accidents in the country’s aging web of pipelines.

An explosion on a natural gas pipeline operated by UGI Utilities killed five people this past February in Allentown, Pennsylvania, while a blast on a PG&E Corp line in California last year killed eight people.

Many pipelines date to the 1960s or earlier and old lines are rarely retired. The overall length of active U.S. pipelines has grown more than 20-fold since the 1920s.

As part of its safety push, the department is also asking for feedback about the need to reduce operating pressure for some pipelines that are more than 40 years old.

Pipeline safety has actually improved sharply over the past 20 years. But from 2006 through 2009 U.S. oil and gas pipeline accidents killed 56 people, caused $1.2 billion in property damage and spilled 381,000 barrels of oil, government data shows.

Recent oil spills from TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, as well as Exxon Mobil’s Silvertip line, have also raised concerns about the environmental risks posed by crude oil pipelines.

Earlier this year, the Senate commerce committee approved legislation that would raise fines against reckless operators of petroleum and natural gas lines and require automatic shut-off valves to prevent oil spills and gas explosions.

SOURCE: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/25/us-pipelines-usa-natgas-regulations-idUSTRE77N6MZ20110825