Experts testify on pipeline safety at NTSB hearing

Paul Clanon of the California Public Utilities Commission, right, questions PG&E employees during the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing in Washington, Tuesday, March 1, 2011, to gather additional factual information for the ongoing investigation into the natural gas pipeline rupture and explosion that occurred on September 9, 2010, in San Bruno, California.(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
March 3, 2011 7:03:45 PM PST
The three-day National Transportation Safety Board hearings into the San Bruno pipeline explosion ended Thursday, just as PG&E announced the actions it is taking in response.

PG&E president Chris Johns watched from the audience as company executives and managers gave sworn testimony to the NTSB over the last three days.

As Thursday's hearing wrapped up, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, announced she met with Johns Wednesday, and he made some promises to send letters to all customers living within 2,000 feet of a pipeline and to expand a peninsula pilot program replacing manual valves with remote or automatic shut off valves. She wants these same things to become law in a bill she's authored.

"If they do, as they say they will do -- which I have no doubt they will -- they become the gold standard in this country for how an operator of a utility should be moving forward in terms of putting safety first," said Speier.

The NTSB has no regulatory power, but Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman says hearings are designed to pressure industries to change.

"This is exactly the type of progress that we could hope for in a public hearing like this," said Hersman.

That progress was in question when an industry representative told the NTSB she doesn't consider a manufacturing flaw that contributed to the deadly San Bruno explosion an issue.

"When I look at the DOJ statistics on incidents, I'm not seeing that as an issue. I'm seeing what happened in San Bruno as an anomaly," said American Gas Association Vice President Christine Sames.

San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson told her she took exception to that, fearing it diminished the urgency of preventing a similar accident in the nation's aging infrastructure.

"I was very surprised and obviously disheartened, concerned that this type of an accident and what we know about it could be considered an anomaly," said Jackson.

The NTSB hopes to issue its final report on probable cause of the rupture before the one-year anniversary this coming September.

Meanwhile, an article in the San Jose Mercury News says a PG&E inspector believes that a sewer project, just inches below the pipeline, may be too blame for the explosion. It was installed in 2008, and the inspector says the violent ground shaking may have weakened the welds in the pipeline. The exact cause of the explosion has still not been determined, but shoddy construction has been brought-up.


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