Tag Archives: San Mateo

Bill package targets gas pipeline safety

A state lawmaker who represents the San Bruno neighborhood devastated by a natural-gas explosion in 2010 introduced a package of bills Monday designed to prevent a repeat of the disaster, including one that would tie Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s rates to its safety performance.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, whose district includes the Crestmoor neighborhood where the PG&E gas explosion killed eight people, said the bills would build on recently enacted state laws mandating that pipeline operators pressure-test their gas lines, install emergency automatic shutoff valves on pipes and improve their emergency response protocols.

“Much work remains to be done … to prevent another disaster,” Hill said at a press conference outside the San Francisco offices of the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency that regulates PG&E and other pipeline operators in the state.

The package of three bills would:

— Require the PUC and pipeline operators to implement “in a timely manner” any gas-safety recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board.

— Require the commission to create a protection program for utility employees who disclose public safety threats.

— Order the PUC to consider the safety performance of PG&E and other utilities in setting gas rates that the companies can charge their customers.

Bill died last year

Hill introduced similar profit-limiting legislation last year, only to have it die in a Senate committee. “I vow to bring that legislation back every year until it is passed and signed by the governor,” he said.

Until recently, he said, PG&E was “gambling with the public safety – less money spent on pipeline safety inspections and pipeline replacements meant more money for profits.”

Hill said his bill tying gas rates to safety, AB1456, would “prevent this gamble from happening.” He said he was encouraged that the commission will hold a workshop Wednesday to determine how to consider safety performance in setting rates.

“The commission may be on its way to transforming itself from the lapdog it’s been to the bulldog it needs to be,” Hill said.

Hill’s legislation on adopting the National Transportation Safety Board’s gas safety recommendations, AB578, comes five months after the federal agency issued about a dozen recommendations to PG&E and the utilities commission in response to the San Bruno disaster. The board said a long history of mismanagement by PG&E of its gas system had caused the fatal explosion, and that the PUC hadn’t done enough to police the company.

Hill noted that the commission had “routinely ignored” past safety board recommendations, including that gas utilities install automatic shutoff valves on gas pipelines and replace a potentially brittle type of plastic distribution pipe, known as Aldyl-A, that was implicated in two PG&E explosions last year.

After those blasts in Cupertino and the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, PG&E announced plans to replace all 1,200 miles of its Aldyl-A pipe.

State says it’s acting

The PUC issued a statement Monday that outlined how it is complying with safety board recommendations, including requiring pressure testing of pipes, cutting pressure on gas lines whose maximum levels are in doubt, ordering records reviews and implementing a program to cite utilities promptly for safety violations.

Hill’s third bill, AB1197, would bar utilities from retaliating against workers who blow the whistle on safety problems.

PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer said the company would be giving Hill’s measures “the attention they deserve.”

He said PG&E is already encouraging its employees to identify safety problems and said the company already prohibits retaliation against workers for raising concerns.

“Our leadership is actively requesting employees to share that information so we can investigate,” Eisenhauer said.

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/01/09/BABF1MMSA5.DTL#ixzz1jAK7TC00

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