PG&E turns in incomplete pipeline documents

March 15, 2011 11:41:54 PM PDT
In January, the state ordered PG&E to turn over documents related to its underground natural gas pipelines by Tuesday. It met the deadline by the California Public Utilities Commission, but the paperwork was incomplete.

This request is all about making sure more than 1,800 miles of PG&E's transmission lines in high population areas are operating at a safe pressure. The summary filed at 5 p.m. with the CPUC says 140 miles are still under review.

PG&E's says it has located pressure test records for 91percent of its transmission lines installed in densely populated areas installed after July 1961. But it has found only about 30 percent of those same records for lines installed before 1961. The ruptured section of San Bruno Line 132 was installed in 1956.

"We need to make sure that the pipelines are operating with a safe pressure before we go forward and that's really what this determines. What are the conditions so that we don't have another San Bruno situation?" said Assmb. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

The missing records could mean pressure reductions in all those lines where they cannot find records, expensive testing, and or upgrades that could require taking lines out of service for days. The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, says the CPUC will decide whether its customers or the utility who pays for it.

"It can easily be taken from PG&E's profits. This is PG&E...they're the ones who allowed the situation to take place so we think they ought to be responsible for paying for it," said TURN Executive Director Mark Toney.

The CPUC ordered PG&E to search its pipeline records because of a discrepancy discovered after the San Bruno explosion. The utility thought it was a seamless pipe underground there, when in fact it had multiple welds, many of them faulty.

At the NTSB hearings in Washington, D.C., PG&E said when the information was entered into a computer database in the 1990s, the only reference was a 1956 accounting document called a "journal voucher" from which the letters "SML" were taken to mean seamless, but the engineering documents would have showed seams. "PG&E personnel... should have properly researched the material code documents to verify the pipe type and not relied on the journal voucher," PG&E told the NTSB.

In its summary filed, PG&E says it is continuing its records search, and this year it plans to hydro test or replace 150 miles of pipe in high population areas and it will be posting on its website maps of lines for which there are missing records.


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