CPUC slams PG&E over pipeline documents

March 18, 2011 6:53:48 PM PDT
In its most vocal criticism of yet the California Public Utilities Commission is slamming PG&E over documents submitted this week detailing PG&E's network of underground gas lines. But there are serious gaps and the utility could face tough consequences as a result.

CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon says no one expects that after 60 years and more every single piece of information is there, but 8 percent of the necessary documents are missing and he is asking how PG&E can claim its operating lines safely if they do not know what is underground.

PG&E President Chris Johns said he is not satisfied with the records search results, filed Tuesday night with the CPUC. The CPUS is not satisfied either.

"Bizarrely, PG&E filed on the deadline; no engineering information, no primary documents about those grandfathered pipelines," Clanon said.

After the September 2009 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed 8 people and destroyed 38 homes, PG&E discovered its records about that line did not match was really underground. The CPUC then ordered the utility to verify its operating lines at safe pressures.

PG&E will now likely have a chance to explain the incomplete filing at a March 28 hearing, but could still face fines of a million dollars a day.

"The most important thing that has to happen is PG&E's senior leadership at every level needs to wake up every day nervous about what they know and what they don't know about their natural gas pipelines," Clanon said.

The missing records raise the question of whether pressure in the suspect lines should be reduced as a precaution.

"We're looking very closely at PG&E's filing from this week to decide if we need to issue pressure reduction orders today, or early next week," Clanon said.

The CPUC and PG&E both say lowering pressure can create hazards of its own.

"If you get pressure too low, it's not enough to supply customers, you could be looking at curtailment or worse if pilots go out, can cause gas to gather with very serious consequences," PG&E spokesperson Joe Molica said.

Since the San Bruno rupture, new pipeline regulations are now in the works at the state and federal levels. Victims hope that some good that will come from the tragedy.

"This is a narrow window of opportunity for our legislators to actually make a difference, to take advantage of this opportunity to get some legislation in place that forces PG&E to do what it needs to do in terms of maintenance and inspections," San Bruno resident Bill Magoolaghan said.

PG&E insists safety is its number one concern. Molica says much of the missing paperwork is for segments of longer lines and PG&E is launching on what it calls an "aggressive testing and replacement program" of 150 miles this year, followed by another 450 miles next year.

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