Speier: PG&E can't find critical pipeline records

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., questions witnesses at the House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

January 28, 2011 5:42:45 PM PST
PG&E says it can't find records for about one-third of its pipelines. It's a revelation that could lead to the shutdown of major sections of pipeline for expensive testing. The utility company can't confirm what it has on the ground, and it will probably have to do high pressure water testing that can cost up to $500,000 a mile, and customers may have to foot the bill.

Bill Magoolaghan's yellow-tagged house is still standing, but it sits empty and stripped, waiting for insurance to come through and pay for rebuilding. He says almost nothing about PG&E surprises him anymore, but the revelation that they can't find records for about one-third of its urban system does.

"To find out that they don't have records for 30 percent of pipes, that's just unfathomable," he said.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, went to the NTSB lab in Washington D.C. this week for an in-person look at the ruptured section of pipe. The NTSB issued a preliminary report saying it had multiple faulty welds.

"The top of the weld was shaved off, so it created a smooth surface on the pipe. So the pipe at the point of the weld is actually 10 percent thinner than on the rest of the pipe," she said.

Speier is worried that the pipe manufacturer identified by PG&E, consolidated Western Steel Corporation, might have made and delivered more bad pipes to other parts of San Bruno and across the state. But PG&E told Speier it cannot find records of who made or installed pipe for about 30 percent of its 1,800 miles of urban pipeline.

"The experts, the scientists are going to make the final determination of what the cause is. But there's no question that the inadequate welds contributed to this explosion," she said.

To complicate things even more, in reports issued so far, the NTDB says it cannot confirm that Western Steel was the manufacturer.

"We're verifying and validating what we have and what records we don't have and we're going to have a full report to the PUC by March 15," PG&E Spokesperson Brian Swanson said.

A pipeline expert from UC Berkeley said that typically, a seemed pipe is weld and put together at the manufacturing plant and then shipped out to the scene. However, there is no confirmation that is what happened, and there is still a chance that perhaps it was put together in San Bruno.