CPUC orders PG&E to lower gas pipeline pressure

February 3, 2011 12:21:56 AM PST
On Wednesday the California Public Utilities Commission ordered PG&E to turn down the pressure in four of its gas lines. Utility experts worry that putting too much pressure through a pipe, that may already be corroded or defective, could cause major problems.

"What we don't want to have is another San Bruno, what we don't want to have is anybody eating into those safety margins," says Paul Clanon, the executive director of the CPUC.

The CPUC found PG&E allowed the pressure in four gas transmission pipelines to rise above maximum federal standards for years -- two of the lines are in Milpitas.

"That is alarming that PG&E historically had been running pressures above the maximum allowable operating pressures," says Milpitas Public Works Director Greg Armendariz.

Armendariz believes the lines in question run out of the Milpitas terminal on Ranch Drive. One travels down Barber Lane, past the Milpitas Square Shopping Center, and into San Jose. The other likely passes by Pinewood Park and into a residential neighborhood.

"I'm a homeowner so obviously any homeowner is going to be concerned about it," says Milpitas resident Kumar Mani.

"We would worry it would explode someday," says Milpitas resident Tiffany Nguyen.

PG&E was ordered to lower the pressure by 20 percent, immediately. The heightened pressure alone may not be enough to cause major problems, but the CPUC doesn't want to take any chances.

"We don't feel comfortable at the Public Utilities Commission until PG&E proves to us that those pipeline pressures are set correctly," says Clanon.

The NTSB found there was a spike in pressure before the September 9 blast in San Bruno and there were defects in the pipe's welds. Since then, PG&E has been required to hand over all pipe inspection reports, but Assm. Jerry Hill, D-San Bruno, is demanding more oversight.

"What I want to see is the Public Utilities Commission goes out and does the inspections, and audits the records in a proactive manner, not waiting for PG&E to provide the information because frankly, we can't rely on PG&E," says Hill.

PG&E released a statement, admitting the pressure exceeded safety standards. The company also says it's taking steps to improve operations.