Tag Archives: San Bruno

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

City of San Francisco sues to force feds to improve pipeline safety

The city of San Francisco took the unusual step Tuesday of asking a judge to force federal natural-gas safety regulators to step up efforts in California, saying the government “abjectly failed” to enforce pipeline laws before and after the 2010 explosion that devastated a San Bruno neighborhood.

At issue in City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is the performance of the little-known U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Although it is charged with enforcing federal safety law, the agency relies on states to do much of its oversight.

Herrera’s suit says federal officials never set standards and let California’s enforcement dwindle in the years leading up to the September 2010 explosion of a PG&E pipeline in San Bruno.

‘Blind trust in operators’

In its investigative report on the blast, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the pipeline agency tighten regulations on operators. The board’s chairwoman, Deborah Hersman, said PG&E had “exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight, and regulatory agencies that placed a blind trust in operators to the detriment of public safety.”

Herrera’s lawsuit echoes those findings, saying the pipeline agency stood by for more than a decade while the California Public Utilities Commission failed to detect PG&E’s safety problems, questionable pipeline-management practices and shoddy record keeping.

The state agency allowed utilities to police and report their own safety violations in lieu of being fined. The agency has changed its approach since the San Bruno disaster and recently proposed a $16.8 million penalty against PG&E for failing to conduct leak inspections on several miles of gas distribution pipelines in the East Bay.

“In the absence of any meaningful oversight by PHMSA, the CPUC has, for decades, forsaken its duty to enforce federal pipeline safety standards,” the city said in its suit. Under those circumstances, the suit said, “it is not a question of if another pipeline will explode, but a question of when.”

The pipeline safety agency issued a statement Tuesday declining to comment on the lawsuit but stressing its “core” commitment to safety.

“That’s why we devoted hundreds of hours of staff support and technical expertise to the NTSB and the California Public Utilities Commission to understand the San Bruno tragedy,” the agency said.

Failure to monitor

The suit said the federal government’s failures were putting San Franciscans at risk. It is the first time a local government has sought stricter regulation from the pipeline safety agency, said Rick Kessler, a lobbyist for the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit that focuses on safety improvements.

“If this brings better oversight and enforcement,” he said, “I applaud it.”

The suit seeks a court order to compel federal pipeline safety officials to set performance standards for state regulators who oversee gas transmission lines.

According to the complaint, the U.S. pipeline agency gave California $1.3 million in 2010 to oversee pipeline safety, yet “never meaningfully evaluated” how the money was spent or measured the effectiveness of the state’s program.

Federal officials knew California’s enforcement efforts had been understaffed since 1998, the suit said, resulting in a small proportion of federal funding being allocated to the state. Inspections became so infrequent by 2006 that the pipeline agency warned the Public Utilities Commission that California was jeopardizing public safety.

The explosion of a gas distribution pipeline in Cupertino in August, in which a condominium was destroyed, is evidence that the federal government hasn’t done enough to strengthen its regulatory efforts since the San Bruno disaster, the suit said.

That explosion happened because of a leak in a notoriously brittle type of 1970s-era plastic pipe, which the government recommended in 1998 that pipeline operators replace. Regulators have never ordered companies to do so, though.

Giving up authority

The federal agency, “for all practical purposes, has allowed gas pipeline operators like PG&E to regulate themselves and, in doing so, has improperly delegated its authority to enforce federal pipeline safety standards to those operators,” the suit said.

Although Herrera earlier threatened to sue the Public Utilities Commission as well, he said Tuesday that the state agency has improved its oversight of PG&E since 2010.

“We are participating in the administrative process to make sure the CPUC follows through on its pledge,” Herrera said in an interview.

PG&E had no comment on the suit except to emphasize actions it has taken since the San Bruno explosion to try to make its gas system safer.

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/02/14/MNKU1N7J3D.DTL#ixzz1mZJosbrD

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

PG&E replacing plastic pipes in Cupertino

A San Francisco  neighborhood is being made safer.

PG&E is replacing thousands of feet of dangerous plastic pipeline that carries natural gas. That kind of pipe has a history of failure and it did so recently in the very spot where PG&E is now changing it out.

PG&E crews began carving out sections of the street to gain access to the old plastic pipeline.

“The lines you see here along the road and outside the homes, those are the main lines and from the main line and from there branching out to the individual service lines that go directly to the meter,” PG&E spokesperson Brian Swanson said.

Twelve-thousand feet of pipeline will be replaced after a gas leak caused an explosion that rocked a Cupertino neighborhood on August 31.

The type of plastic used in Cupertino has failed in the past. The maker, had warned pipe made prior to 1973 can crack.

Assm. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, says there were other warnings.

“The National Transportation Safety Board in 1998 came out with a recommendation that the pipes should be checked, monitored and replaced; here again nobody did anything about it,” Hill said.

PG&&E claims it has.

Still, the utility company says replacing all plastic pre-1973 pipes was not priority until now.

PG&E will replace 1,200 miles of the plastic pipeline system wide, which will take at least four years.

Hill will now introduce legislation demanding that all safety recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board be adopted by all utility companies.

SOURCE: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/south_bay&id=8424072

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

PG&E to replace 1,200 miles of plastic gas pipe

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will undertake a multiyear effort to remove more than 1,200 miles of plastic pipeline that has been linked to numerous failures nationwide, including two explosions in Northern California in the past six weeks.

The company’s decision to replace the pre-1973 pipe, marks a departure from a policy that PG&E had reaffirmed as recently as last week to assess its natural gas-distribution system before deciding which lines to replace.

The replacement project is likely to run into the millions of dollars, although PG&E would give no cost estimate. The company is likely to ask the California Public Utilities Commission to pass the cost along to customers.

The plastic pipe is used in distribution systems that deliver gas to homes. The manufacturer of the pipe warned customers nearly three decades ago that pipe made before 1973 was prone to cracking and sudden failure.

In 1998, the National Transportation Safety Board, noting instances in which this particular pipe and other plastic pipes had ruptured, urged pipeline companies to assess their lines and replace those with problems.

Two blasts
PG&E set aside $1.5 million in customers’ money starting in 2009 to assess its plastic pipelines’ reliability, but spent only a fraction of that and made little progress on the studies.

Then, on Aug. 31, one of these specific plastic pipelines in Cupertino that had sprung numerous leaks filled a condominium with gas, which ignited minutes after the owner had left. The building was destroyed. Less than a month later, another line installed in 1981 in Roseville (Placer County) exploded beneath a commercial intersection, touching off a seven-hour fire. No one was hurt.

PG&E said last Friday that it would start replacing pre-1973 plastic lines as soon as next year, after it presents a plan to state regulators. The company expects to take more than three years to complete the work.

First on the list
In the meantime, PG&E will replace 12,000 feet of line around the condominium complex in Cupertino and a 400-foot piece at the site of the Roseville fire. It will also replace distribution pipe at a mobile home park in St. Helena where a leak was discovered last year, PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer said.

The company said it plans to digitize 15,000 maps of the plastic pipeline systems and create a database to track leaks. PG&E will also replace some of the 6,676 miles of newer lines based on how often they leak.

Eisenhauer said the effort is in the planning stages and carries unknown costs and time frames.

“This is something we have been looking at,” he said. “Part of the plan is determining where in our system there is a higher leak rate, and then prioritizing it.”

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has announced plans for legislation to require state regulators to act on National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, which could lead to an order for PG&E to remove its troubled plastic pipe.

‘Great news’
“I think it’s great news – it’s certainly an indication of good will in the future,” Hill said. “But we still need the legislation, to make sure safety recommendations are followed.”

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline consultant who advises the advocacy group The Utility Reform Network as well as the federal government on safety issues, said PG&E may be able to replace some of its lines without digging up the old pipe.

In some cases, new plastic pipe can be inserted in old lines, and in others PG&E can create a new distribution network around the old one, Kuprewicz said.

“It’s a fairly easy process,” he said, “but the devil’s in the details” – specifically, finding out which lines need to be replaced first.

“It’s very important that it be matched with a well-thought-out leak survey process,” Kuprewicz said.

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/14/BAK51LHQB7.DTL#ixzz1b8KaP1mu

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

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

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