NTSB releases report on San Bruno explosion

(Brian Carmody)
September 26, 2011 7:49:34 PM PDT
The final report of the San Bruno pipeline disaster is out and PG&E is still to blame. The report details a series of errors -- from faulty welds to a lagging response time.

The final report from the National Transportation Safety Board includes some familiar numbers -- eight people killed, 38 homes destroyed, along with some not so familiar numbers -- 108 homes impacted, 74 vehicles damaged or destroyed, PG&E's cost to repair Line 132: $13.5 million and the value of the natural gas lost in the explosion and fire: $263,000.

An NTSB documentary released Monday along with the final report includes amateur video of the explosion just moments after the rupture. The documentary calls the ignited natural gas a "300-foot tall tower of flame."

The documentary shows the NTSB studying the ruptured pipe and discovering the incomplete welds. The final report says PG&E either overlooked or ignored the substandard pipe that never should have been installed in 1956.

The final report also says lax state and federal regulators contributed to the accident. In the documentary, NTSB Chairperson Deborah Hersman calls on regulators to toughen up.

"They need to take a hard stand and I think when people violate the trust, the penalty needs to be high because when we have an accident like San Bruno, it's too late," Hersman said.

Monday, PG&E released a videotaped statement from President Chris Johns.

"We'll continue to look at the written report and make sure that we've addressed and fully embraced all of the words and all of the suggested actions that are within that report," Johns said.

PG&E was never required to do an expensive pressure test on the pipe that exploded because of a law exempting older pipes from such tests. The NTSB is calling on federal regulators to change that and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., has introduced a bill to do the same. But she says it's an uphill battle.

"I've got to tell you, I feel like I'm dealing with people that are deaf and dumb," Speier said. "Because it didn't happen in their districts and so they're not engaged and the gas operators have huge political sway."

"The NTSB makes recommendations, those recommendations now need to be put into law," Assm. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said.

Hill wants to give utility workers the same whistleblower protections granted to state employees. He also wants the approval of utilities' profits tied to their performance on safety.

California is largely ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to the testing of older pipes. The California Public Utilities Commission has already gotten rid of the older pipe testing exemption that Speier is working to stop on the national level.

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