PG&E criticized over Pittsburg pipeline venting

September 26, 2011 10:06:41 PM PDT
PG&E promised to be more vigilant and pro-active about public safety after the San Bruno disaster, but some East Bay neighbors are questioning the utility's communication skills after being frightened by an incident. It may have been a failure to communicate or a failure to listen, probably a combination of both.

It was quiet in Pittsburg, Monday. Relatively quiet, at least, compared with what residents endured over the weekend.

"It was really loud; you had to shout to speak with someone five or 10 feet away," witness Amanoel Bedjan said.

It was the sound of PG&E intentionally venting 3 million cubic feet of natural gas at 400 pounds per square inch, Sunday.

The noise is perfectly normal and although the utility warned 3,100 residents with individual phone messages, clearly it suffered a failure to communicate as residents fled for fear of an explosion.

"My neighbor two doors down, she come outside, she thought it was a jet airliner coming down or something," neighbor Gino Canto said.

"It looked like a scene out of a movie; you hate to say that but, people took off; when I went into the pub to lock things down there were fresh beers in glasses, that will never happen again." Bedjan said.

Monday, the utility was more than apologetic. It resumed the procedure, but this time, venting the gas through a muffler truck to cut down the noise.

"Customers may still smell natural gas, but we hope that they are more comfortable with work we are doing in the area," PG&E spokesperson Brittany Chord said.

The real work is two blocks away, where PG&E is replacing 100 feet of a 26-inch line for which it says it has no records. This is a safety precaution, the utility says. And yet, even when PG&E does something right, critics find flaws.

Carol Ginty lives 20 feet away from the line and says she wasn't told anything.

"We're doing an extensive outreach effort, to our customers, we definitely want them to know about the work we are doing in the area and we definitely want to be on hand for any questions they might have," Chord said.

PG&&E says it printed an information sheet and took it to the nearby mobile home park for the manager to distribute to the residents. No one is sure what happened after that.


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