PG&E calls pipeline rupture a "success"


In most people's book, if you fail a test, that's a failure. But not at PG&E. A section of pipeline 132 failed a pressure test Sunday, but PG&E is calling it a success.

The rupture happened as engineers subjected the 64-year-old pipeline to high-pressure water testing.

"We're glad we found it," PG&E Vice President Kirk Johnson said. "This is the exact purpose of doing these hydro tests is to find any weaknesses we might find in the pipe at much higher pressure than we'd normally operate at. So for us this is a success."

Crews found a dent in the pipe, but how it happened is unknown.

The pipe is buried along a PG&E easement atop a knoll between homes and the northbound lanes of Highway 280 in Woodside. PG&E believes the pipe is seamless. It's part of the same pipeline that exploded in San Bruno last year. However, the Woodside section was made by a different company.

Repairs should be done by mid-week. Testing of the pipe will resume this weekend.

Twelve more miles of line 132 will be pressure tested next year, meaning that during the heavy use winter months, gas will flow at a 20 percent reduced pressure. That could create a gas shortage for Peninsula customers.

"They want to raise the pressure the 20 percent that we cut them back last year after San Bruno; the problem is we want to make sure that they've done the proper testing every inch of that pipe so that we can be assured that it will be safe and operate properly," Assm. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said.

The California Public Utilities Commission is aware of the potential problem, but it is putting safety first.

"It will stay operating at the lower pressures that we've ordered until we're sure that it's all been tested and that it's passed those tests," CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon said.

PG&E had to be cajoled into doing the hydrostatic pressure tests by state lawmakers and regulators.

"We have a renewed commitment to safety; this is the new PG&E," PG&E spokesperson David Eisenhauer said. "We're doing everything we can to make sure our systems are operating as safely as they can."

The investigation into the pipeline failure has been delayed while PG&E negotiates with property owners to get access. The pipe then will go to its own lab in Livermore.

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