NTSB: No external corrosion in San Bruno pipe blast

Two weeks after the deadly explosion and fire in San Bruno, the clean-up officially begins.

December 14, 2010 7:20:19 PM PST
New findings were released on the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion that occurred on Sept. 9.

Even after the explosion that killed eight and destroyed dozens of homes, Pacific Gas and Electric continued to report that it's 30-inch gas pipe was seamless and made without welds.

But inspectors for the National Transportation Safety Board found the pipe was riddled with welds. Some of the seams were welded on the inside and outside of the pipe, some just on the outside. Inspectors say it was one of the seams that ripped open in the explosion.

"This pipe has probably not been examined since 1956 when it was first put in," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said.

At a news conference with San Bruno's mayor, Speier told reporters the law requires pipes with welded seams to be inspected more aggressively and it's up the California Public Utility Commission to make sure those inspections are performed.

"I want to make sure that the law is being followed by CPUC and PG&E as it relates to the inspection process and to date I don't believe it has," Speier said.

In a conference call with reporters, PG&E admitted their records weren't accurate.

"And we are, as part of our investigation, we are reviewing all of our records and turning that over to the NTSB as part of that review," PG&E vice president of gas transmission Kirk Johnson said.

The head of the company's gas engineering went on to dispute Speier's claim that the pipes weren't properly inspected.

"There is no difference in the regulations between seamless pipe and those that have seams," PG&E president Chris Johns said.

In the NTSB preliminary report, there was no evidence of corrosion inside or outside of the pipe, no evidence of damage from anyone digging into the pipe and no evidence of a pre explosion gas leak -- despite reports that some residents smelled gas days before the pipe erupted.

"There had to be a leak, there had to be a leak. What would cause the explosion? There had to be a leak," a San Bruno resident said.

The CPUC has not returned our repeated requests for information on which inspections are required for welded pipes and which were actually done. As for what caused the explosion, the NTSB says it could take many more months before it's able to determine that.

The next Town Hall Meeting for San Bruno residents with representatives from the NTSB, PHMSA, CPUC, PG&E, IRS and the Department of insurance will be next Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m.:

San Bruno Senior Center
1555 Crystal Springs Road
San Bruno, CA 94066


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