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.