Feds call on industry to repair aging pipelines

April 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Federal transpiration officials are calling for new safety measures for our nation's pipelines. Their demands follow a series of national fatalities including the disaster in San Bruno.

Members of Congress will review this initiative. At least one congressperson, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, likes what she hears and said these are common sense, long overdue improvements that can ultimately save lives.

Here is what the Department of Transportation is proposing in order to ensure pipeline safety around the country:

  • Increase the maximum penalties for violations
  • Boost the number of inspectors
  • Strengthen the data reporting.

It is now up to Congress to approve the safety action plan.

"But the message has to go out with the states that they really have to maintain a high level of credibility with the people they are serving," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

The initiative was proposed because of the escalating number of fatalities from pipeline accidents -- nine in 2008, 13 in 2009 and 22 last year. Last September's San Bruno explosion left eight people dead.

The Utility Reform Network (TURN) says the initiative is a step in the right direction.

"It's absolutely critical to know where the pipelines are located, how they are being inspected and what they are made of," TURN spokesperson Mark Toney said.

PG&E says that is part of its 2020 pipeline program -- changing the way the utility company inspects pipelines by going inside the active gas lines.

Tuesday night the California Public Utilities Commission will hold a public participation hearing in San Bruno to discuss any safety concerns.

"We are going to print out pipeline maps for them, if they are wondering where any of the gas lines may be near their home or business," PG&E spokesperson Joe Molica said.

Late last year, the CPUC told PG&E it had to lower the operating pressure of all the transmission lines serving San Francisco and San Mateo. In December, Peninsula and San Francisco customers were asked to conserve and now, 56 percent, or 266,000 households are getting a $25 prepaid debit card, costing PG&E more than $6.6 million.

All those lines will remain functioning at a lower-than usual-pressure for the time being.

LaHood spoke about the role of the CPUC following the San Bruno incident and said the investigation pointed out some deficiencies, but based on what ABC7 has heard, the CPUC is trying to find the deficiencies.

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