Value of PG&E's list comes under fire

September 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
After a list was released of the 100 most risky natural gas pipelines, there are questions about the value of that list put out by PG&E and the criteria used by the utility to prioritize potential trouble spots. Some consumer groups and some politicians are pushing for more oversight.

"It's 100 planning segments that we're focused on and prioritizing," says Johns.

PG&E president Chris Johns says its list of the 100 highest priority pipeline repair projects is based on a number of criteria. Among them are potential for third party damage, potential for corrosion, potential for ground movement and pipe design and characteristics.

"They put a numeric values associated with each one of those and come up with a weighted factor. We then take that factor and list it from the top to the bottom, highest to lowest," says Johns.

Still, Mindy Spatt of the consumer watchdog group The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, isn't satisfied. She points out, only two of the repair projects are under way. Perhaps even more important, the list, compiled earlier this year, doesn't include the section of the pipeline that exploded in San Bruno a week and a half ago.

"What does that mean exactly? Does that mean the process of identifying these projects is not comprehensive enough?" asks Spatt.

In all, PG&E has over 6,400 miles of gas transmission lines throughout California.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, whose district includes San Bruno, isn't satisfied with PG&E's list either. He wants the state's Public Utilities Commission to provide more oversight.

"Who determines the criteria? I think that's the issue. Who's making the determination of what the risk assessment is of this pipeline. It's PG&E is what I'm learning today and it's all PG&E," says Hill.

Those in the industry, however, aren't as quick to criticize PG&E.

Geoffrey Egan is an engineering consultant with the Sunnyvale firm Intertek APTECH.

"Certainly I don't think we should get into a media or public frenzy over this activity because it is what most gas utilities will do. They'll develop a list like this and it is part of their normal maintenance planning," says Egan.

PG&E didn't want to release its list at first, but changed its mind after pressure from state regulators.

None of PG&E's top 100 gas lines are in San Francisco. If you would like to find out more information about your proximity to a large natural gas pipeline, you can call PG&E's Hotline: 1-888-743-7431


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