NTSB investigating gas line explosion in Cupertino

September 2, 2011 8:12:09 PM PDT
Federal investigators are looking into a gas line explosion at a Cupertino condominium complex. The explosion happened just one day after the National Transportation Safety Board slammed PG&E because of the deadly San Bruno pipeline blast.

The Cupertino accident involves a two-inch distribution pipeline, which is different from San Bruno where a 30-inch steel pipe was involved. The San Bruno explosion killed eight people; there were no injuries in the Cupertino incident. Still, PG&E is the agency involved in the incident, and there have been others like the one that happened in Cupertino.

Wednesday's Cupertino explosion was caused by a leaking two-inch distribution line. It took PG&E two hours to dig up three locations and pinch off the gas flow.

PG&E has been checking for leaks throughout the complex ever since.

"I feel a little bit better. We see them out here, but are they really, properly doing their job?" one resident of the condominium complex said. "It seems like this can happen anywhere. This is very close to home. When it hits you at home, it's very scary."

The explosion came one day after the NTSB's final report on the San Bruno pipeline failure. The report slammed PG&E for using obviously-substandard materials, failing to find a problem over decades and an excessively-slow response time. It took about an hour and a half to shut down gas rushing through the enormous thirty-inch steel pipe in San Bruno.

PG&E says the two hours it took to stop the gas in Cupertino was faster than shutting valves.

"In a distribution-type leak, we typically dig trenches to expose the line, clamp it shut and isolate it," said Brian Swanson with PG&E. "That's not only quicker, but it's also safer as far as impacts to surrounding neighborhoods."

On Tuesday, the NTSB also blamed PG&E for missing opportunities to learn from prior accidents. Those lessons could have prevented San Bruno.

In 2008, a house exploded in the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova. That explosion killed one person and injured three others. That incident involved a leaking distribution line like the explosion in Cupertino.

"For the amount of money that consumers pay, I think we expect that gas leaks should be found before there's an explosion rather than after the explosion," said Mark Toney with the Utility Reform Network.

"If the San Bruno explosion hadn't happened, you wouldn't have these PG&E and fire department out here," said neighbor Douglas Pasos. "PG&E is really worried."

PG&E has a $2.2 billion plan to upgrade their system. That plan will require approval from the CPUC after a lengthy public process where there are sure to be many opponents.


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