Whistleblowers say PG&E tests miss faulty pipeline welds

February 8, 2012 5:02:16 PM PST
PG&E is facing new allegations of faulty welds along its Bay Area natural gas pipelines after two whistleblowers stepped forward.

PG&E has been conducting a lot of gas line testing and the intent of that testing program is to identify flaws by subjecting the pipelines to water pressure greater than what they would stand with natural gas. However, two veteran welders have stepped forward saying they see flaws that the testing has not discovered.

The two whistleblowers worked for contractors that were helping PG&E with its hydrostatic pressure testing last year. One of them, Marshall Worland, with 48 years experience as a welder, told the state PUC, "The quality of the welds inside was truly terrible." Worland cited defective root passes, burn throughs, and internal cuts.

ABC7 went to the Welding Training Center in Concord operated by the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union, Local 342, to explain why root passes are so important. Program Coordinator Steve Eckley said it is the critical first step to weld two pieces of pipe together. "If that's not there, that's how you determine there's no root pass. And you can tell, the edges of the pipe from the inside, they wouldn't have any penetration to them," he said explaining how they can reveal a weld to be questionable.

Another welder with 25 years experience provided the CPUC with photos he took of a section of Line 132, the line that runs through San Bruno. Mike Mikich testified, "The vast majority of the welds we saw on Line 132 were defective and showed extraordinarily poor workmanship."

PG&E says it is looking into the complaints, but stands by its testing program. "The whole purpose of this rigorous hydrostatic pressure testing and inspection program we have is to identify any weaknesses that might exist in our pipeline due to bad welds or any other issue," spokesman Brian Swanson said. "So, if there are weaknesses in our pipe, we want to identify them through this rigorous testing that we're doing so we can get in, replace that pipe, and make our system stronger for our customers."

The CPUC says it will look into the allegations. In the meantime, Congresswoman Jackie Speier issued a statement that, "Immediate action is required by the CPUC and PG&E, and require proof positive that the public is not at risk."

ABC7 tried to interview both whistleblowers, but one is working out of state and the other did not return phone calls.


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