PG&E has public hearing before increasing gas

September 19, 2011 7:38:00 PM PDT
For the first time, PG&E had to go through a very public process to seek permission to restore full pressure on parts of its gas pipeline system. Pressure was cut back on a number of lines after the deadly San Bruno explosion.

PG&E's vice president of gas standards and policy Jane Yura testified at a public CPUC hearing on Monday, presenting evidence that a compressor station in Southern California has been tested and is safe. It is the first time PG&E has gone through this new public process to get permission to increase pressure where it's been reduced. It was not a perfect beginning.

"It appears there was miscommunication between PG&E, the commission staff, and PG&E's contractors," said Marcel Hawiger from The Utility Reform Network.

The CPUC ordered PG&E to reduce pressure on a number of suspect pipelines after the San Bruno explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

A major line coming out of the Topock compressor station is one of them, but the station itself needed testing after a pressure surge in February went above the legal limit. PG&E did not perform one of the tests the CPUC was expecting, but commissioners believe the tests that were done are probably adequate.

"I would have much preferred that this first one come in squeaky clean with no wrinkles, but at this point, I'm subject to further follow-up, but I'm reasonably satisfied," said CPUC commissioner Mike Florio.

"This is testing small segments in a facility that's located in very much out in the middle of nowhere, a compressor station. These same kinds of miscommunications cannot occur when testing large pipeline segments close to urban centers," said Hawiger.

"We wouldn't request the CPUC raise the pressure to normal levels unless we were extremely confident that it was safe to do so," said Brian Swanson from PG&E.

The commission will vote in about two weeks. After that, the CPUC will decide if it's necessary to go through this process again for the next dozen or so lines where pressure was cut after San Bruno.


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