One day after Pacific Gas & Electric submitted records related to operating pressures for its natural gas pipelines running beneath the San Francisco Peninsula to the California Public Utilities Commission, the commission fired back a response claiming that the utility “is refusing to comply with the (order’s) plain terms” and “may be placing public safety in jeopardy.”

The commission today demanded additional pipeline records from the utility, after it says the utility failed to produce adequate pipeline records, and said it may likely impose hefty fines–as much as $1 million per day–for violating its January directive to produce detailed records.

In a letter today addressed to PG&E’s president, Chris Johns, the commission’s executive director, Paul Clanon, restated the order for PG&E to produce the records.

Clanon said that the commission could possibly issue an order for PG&E to show cause why the company “should not be fined for its failure to comply.”

On March 24, when the CPUC holds its next voting meeting, the commission staff will recommend issuing the order, according to a statement issued today.

The commission has the authority to impose fines of $20,000 per violation per day for what it said was “deliberate noncompliance with CPUC directives,” and it said that multiple violations could result in fines of $1 million a day or more.

Clanon criticized PG&E for claiming that it submitted pressure information for a majority of its pipelines, saying that the documents provided were unacceptable.

PG&E submitted what it said were records for more than 90 percent of its natural gas pipelines in the region, records that provided either information about pressure tests performed on the segments or historical operating pressures.

Those records, PG&E said, sometimes cited only a historical operating pressure in lieu of pressure test results because federal regulations allow operators to rely on the dated information for segments installed before 1970.

But when the commission directed the utility to undertake the extensive search–PG&E said it has scoured more than 1.25 million documents thus far–Clanon said the objective was “to find, to the extent possible, a basis for setting maximum allowable operating pressure by means other than the grandfathering method described in PG&E’s response.”
Referencing the commission’s original directive, Clanon said that PG&E was directed to produce “‘traceable, verifiable, and complete records,'” which it failed to do by the Tuesday 5 p.m. deadline.

In January, the commission ordered the company to produce the records for its 1,805 miles of such pipelines as part of a larger probe of potential safety issues after state officials ordered a pressure reduction on transmission lines that were operating over maximum allowable operating pressure levels.

On Tuesday, when PG&E submitted its records, John said in a statement that because a fraction of the records had yet to be found that the company would continue its search and review of the remaining test records and would “provide regular updates on our efforts.”

“While we have made good progress on our records validation, we are not satisfied with the results to date,” Johns said Tuesday.

Pressure test records for the pipeline segment involved in the Sep. 9, 2010, explosion in San Bruno have not yet been identified, PG&E said.

Of the incomplete submission, Clanon wrote, “This is particularly inexcusable in the wake of the tragedy at San Bruno.”

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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