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Talks underway about releasing risky pipeline maps

September 17, 2010 9:57:14 PM PDT
Highly confidential discussions are underway today on whether to release, under heavy pressure from the Governor and first responders, maps that could show the public and emergency personnel the most risky gas transmission pipelines in the state.

Sources have told ABC7 News that the talks involve the state Public Utilities Commission, Homeland Security, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, the California Emergency Management Agency as well as other agencies.

Public safety officials, including the fire chiefs of Fremont and San Francisco, have been highly critical that such information is not available.

PG&E has said such details would pose a security risk. That position was reiterated today by Jeff Smith, a spokesman for PG&E.

The gas pipeline that was blown out of the ground last Thursday evening in San Bruno, known as transmission line 132, arrived late on Thursday afternoon at the metallurgical lab operated in Ashburn Virginia by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation into the explosion and fire that has claimed four lives. Testing of the old pipe, laid around 1956, will begin some time next week.

PG&E acknowledged that it discovered last year that compressor oil and possibly some water had seeped into four gas pipelines, including the one that exploded in San Bruno. Corrective measures were taken last November.

Liquid in pipelines can lead to corrosion, which in turn can compromise the integrity of a pipe allowed to carry natural gas pressurized at up to 400 PSI (pounds per square inch).

PG&E says it operated transmission line 132 at a maximum of 375 PSI. The state PUC has since ordered PG&E to reduce the maximum operational pressure by 20 percent, but it not clear whether it's 20 percent below the 400 or 375 PSI numbers.

Smith says crews have restored gas service to the Crestmoor neighborhood by using lower pressure distribution lines.

"It's a tough thing to balance. You don't want to wrong people to know that information, but in this case, I really think that they need to let the homeowners know," resident Karen Sullivan said.

"What's more important, People's safety? People's lives? Are they concerned that someone is going to do something bad to them?" John Lemke said.

An apparent disconnect is happening between what state officials are asking for and PG&E struggling to figure out what they will do.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, says if PG&E releases anything less than full details, he will introduce a bill to force PG&E to comply.

PG&E gas line information

There is no dedicated PG&E hotline for gas line information, but you can call the regular customer line at: 1-800-743-5000

Operators can tell you if your home is in the proximity of a high pressure natural gas transmission line, but they will not give you an exact location. Also, PG&E operators cannot provide you with specifics about the need of repair or repair status of the nearby high pressure line.


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