sanbrunofire.pipe.jpgRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, hosted a meeting Tuesday morning to review a PG&E report submitted Monday to the California Public Utilities Commission regarding the integrity of its gas transmission system in San Mateo County and throughout the state.

The report, which was presented by PG&E officials to Speier, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and representatives from the city councils of nearly two dozen Peninsula cities, was requested by the CPUC following the Sept. 9 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed 8 people and destroyed 35 homes.

The explosion and natural gas-fed fire that it caused prompted the CPUC to request that PG&E inspect and report on the remaining 15.9 miles of pipeline around San Bruno as well as conduct an accelerated inspection throughout its 2,500-mile statewide system.
“This was done at the behest of the CPUC,” Speier said.

According to the report, “PG&E did not identify during the survey any integrity issues that required immediate repair” in the San Bruno pipelines.

In its statewide survey, PG&E “found and dealt with” four gas leaks on main transmission pipelines like the one that exploded in San Bruno, and 34 leaks on other facilities that required immediate repair.

“These leaks were discovered, and we took immediate action to make repairs,” PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said.

The report also included an update regarding the replacement or retrofit of manually operated valves with remotely controlled or automatic shutoff valves on its pipeline system.

The CPUC requested a review of the valve technology after a preliminary report on the San Bruno explosion by the National Transportation Safety Board found that it took PG&E workers nearly 30 minutes to manually shut off the valve controlling the gas supply “upstream” of where the pipeline ruptured, which was the main source of the Glenview neighborhood fire.

PG&E identified nearly two dozen valves that were candidates for replacement with automatic models on the Peninsula, and approximately 300 statewide.

Replacing each valve is site-specific, according to PG&E, and could take up to nine months and would cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1.5 million.

Not included in the report but addressed at this morning’s meeting was the pipeline inspection practice of using a “pig,” a robotic device that inspectors use to make more specific determinations on a pipeline’s physical condition, including deterioration issues, Speier said.

“The pigs give you more information on the integrity of the pipeline,” she said.

PG&E’s recent inspections in San Bruno and on the Peninsula were performed by aerial and ground inspections, Speier said, because varying sizes in the area’s pipeline diameters preclude “pigable” inspections.

“The most disturbing thing to me is that most of the pipeline in San Mateo County is unpigable,” Speier said, adding that a true assessment of the pipeline infrastructure couldn’t be confidently accepted without including pig inspections or pressure testing, which requires hours of shutting off gas service to customers.

“We are investigating ways that we can increase the amount of line that is pigable,” Moreno said.

Mayor Jim Ruane of San Bruno, who attended this morning’s meeting, summed up his response to the most recent updates on pipeline integrity, inspection practices and valve technology.

“I feel like I’m getting a Master’s,” he said.

Chris Cooney, Bay City News

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