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The California Public Utilities Commission will order Pacific Gas and Electric Company to inspect its natural gas system as a result of the San Bruno explosion and fire, according to a statement.

CPUC President Michael Peevey said in a release today that he intends to appoint an independent expert panel to assist in the investigation. CPUC will also direct PG&E to immediately begin an inspection of its natural gas transmission system.

At about 6:15 p.m. Thursday, a 30-inch PG&E steel gas transmission pipeline ruptured near Skyline Boulevard and San Bruno Avenue, which caused a massive explosion and fire that officially killed four people, hospitalized more than 50 others and destroyed 37 homes.

Witnesses have said they allegedly smelled gas prior to the explosion.

City Manager Connie Jackson has said that PG&E President Chris Johns had no immediate knowledge of complaints of a prior gas leak, but that officials are aggressively investigating the claim.

Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado on Saturday sent a letter asking CPUC to order PG&E to conduct an integrity assessment of its natural gas pipeline system.

The CPUC this year found that PG&E managers did not train field service representatives on the use of gas detection equipment and grading leaks outdoors, according to a statement from state Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

Hill said he received a briefing that noted a CPUC audit of PG&E, which found the utility’s procedures for training personnel who respond to reports of gas leaks was in violation of federal regulations.

The audit found PG&E’s procedures for field representatives responding to gas leaks did not define the term “hazardous leak.” It also stated PG&E did not train service representatives on the use of gas detection equipment and grading leaks outdoors.

Mike Wiseman, a former PG&E employee, filed a lawsuit on Aug. 17 in San Francisco Superior Court claiming the utility’s supervisors “severely harassed” him after he reported unsafe practices on the company’s gas transmission lines, according to Tony Bothwell, Wiseman’s attorney.

The suit charges whistleblower retaliation, false imprisonment, trespass to chattel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and unfair business practice.

Andy Hamilton, Bay City News

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