CPUC changes rules on pipeline pressure increases

September 8, 2011 8:49:47 PM PDT
The one year anniversary of the deadly pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno is Friday. It's hard to believe it's already been a year. Thursday, state regulators let PG&E know that things will be different from now on.

PG&E will have to answer to the public and get permission from California Public Utilities Commission commissioners before restoring pressure on lines reduced after San Bruno. The first hearing will be Sept. 19, and it will focus on PG&E's request to increase the pressure on a main supply line from Arizona to Milpitas.

Right after the San Bruno pipeline explosion, the CPUC ordered PG&E to reduce the pressure in all lines similar to the one that ruptured. Earlier this year, PG&E asked that the CPUC's executive director alone grant permission to restore pressure. Thursday, the commission denied that request in favor of a public process.

"A number of parties said, 'Now, wait a minute, this is pretty high profile, people are concerned, we ought to have a public open process,'" CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio said.

"There may not be a huge number of consumers that show up here to hear the actual details of what PG&E is doing, but in the end what consumers want is to know that someone's minding the store and that someone is not PG&E," The Utility Reform Network spokesperson Mindy Spatt said.

The senior PG&E officer in charge of gas system engineering will have to present test results and other data to support its request for restoring pressure. He must testify at a public hearing on the safety of restoring pressure and he will have to take questions.

PG&E is worried about a speedy approval process, in time for winter -- the peak gas usage season.

"We're trying to balance full public airing with a real need for expedition to get this done so people don't end up going without gas," Florio said.

Friday, CPUC workers and commissioners will be marking the San Bruno one year anniversary by dedicating a bench and weeping cherry tree to former CPUC employee Jackie Grieg and her daughter Janessa, who died that night in their home.

"What we're doing here is building in a very physical way into our dually working lives and the working lives of everyone who comes to this building, the importance of safety; how you can get it wrong, and the consequences of getting it wrong and therefore the importance of getting it right," CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon said.

In addition to the Greigs, the bench and tree will also be dedicated to the other six people who died in San Bruno. CPUC commissioners and employees paid for the memorial themselves; no public money was used.


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