CPUC responds to NTSB urgent recommendations

(Brian Carmody)

January 5, 2011 6:49:52 PM PST
California Public Utilities Commission Executive Director Paul Clanon spoke to ABC7 Wednesday about what it is doing in response to the NTSB's urgent recommendations issued Monday, addressing problems with record-keeping by utilities.

Those problems could lead to operating pipelines at unsafe pressure levels.

Clanon says the NTSB has only accelerated a records verification process begun shortly after the fatal Sept. 9, 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

PG&E's records show a seamless pipe was underground, when in fact it had multiple seams and welds. Clanon says the CPUC ordered the utility to verify its records on the rest of its system when that first came to light months ago. Clanon says the records verification process involves comparing documents from different sources.

"The first thing we had PG&E do is look at all records; purchase records of pipeline segments, construction records, inspections once installed, and make sure they all jibe," Clanon said. "If they do, we have less concern. If they don't, big red flags."

ABC7 asked Clanon how it could be that PG&E's records could be so completely wrong. He says,

"There was a lot of building of natural gas pipelines during the 1940s and 1950s in the U.S," he said. "Records were not so good, computers were not used. It was pieces of paper and files. We need the NTSB to reach its conclusions in that area. It's a prime focus of the investigation. These are complicated pipeline systems and standards were different in the 1950s than they are today. Certainly standards around pipe construction and testing are dramatically different now than they were 55 years ago."

Clanon also addressed scathing criticism from Peninsula Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who said Monday's NTSB recommendations represent a regulatory failure.

"Look, there was a fatal explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people; nobody involved in operating the pipeline system, regulating that pipeline system either at the local, state or federal level can say the system worked. It didn't . We need to know what changes need to be made to the system. And that's what we're doing now, we're relying on the NTSB investigation's findings," Clanon said.

The NTSB is holding a fact-finding hearing in March. Clanon says he doesn't know yet if he will be asked to testify.