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Error in Pacific Gas & Electric records didn't affect inspection of San Bruno pipeline, company says

Lawyers for Pacific Gas & Electric say the utility wouldn't have inspected its transmission line any differently if its records had correctly identified the type of seam on an aging pipeline in San Bruno, where an explosion killed eight people and destroyed 37 homes in September.

April 19, 2011|By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times
  • A firefighter, accompanied by a rescue dog, sprays water on a hotspot in the aftermath of a natural gas explosion that tore through a San Bruno, Calif., neighborhood in September, killing eight and destroying 37 homes.
A firefighter, accompanied by a rescue dog, sprays water on a hotspot in… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from San Francisco -- Attorneys for Pacific Gas & Electric said that even if the utility's records about the transmission line that burst in September, killing eight and destroying 37 homes, had accurately identified the "seam type" on its aging pipeline, the utility would not have inspected the line any differently, according to documents filed with state regulators Monday.

As part of the ongoing investigation into the San Bruno blast, the state Public Utilities Commission demanded that PG&E turn over records relating to the gas pipeline by end of business Monday and to respond to reports by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is looking into the explosion.

The PUC had originally demanded much more information from PG&E, but the utility asked for additional time to fulfill the requests. And even the documents filed Monday did not fully answer the PUC's questions.

In a February legal filing, the commission demanded that PG&E respond to federal findings about its gas pipeline records. On Monday, the utility acknowledged that its records incorrectly state that the section of pipe that ruptured was seamless; in fact, "the pipeline in the area of the rupture was constructed with longitudinal seam-welded pipe."

NTSB investigators have voiced concern that the welded sections might not be as strong as seamless pipes.

Beyond that, however, the documents stated that because the NTSB's investigation is ongoing, "PG&E cannot comment."

However, the documents did say that "the absence of this record discrepancy would not have impacted PG&E's integrity management" of the aging pipeline and "thus would not have led to the discovery of the longitudinal seam defect identified by the NTSB."

The NTSB has asked the Northern California utility to do an intensive record search to find all gas pipelines that have not been pressure-tested and to determine the safe operating pressures for pipelines based on their weakest sections.

"PG&E is fully committed to making the necessary changes that will enhance the safety and service of our gas operations," spokesman Joe Molica said in a written statement. "As we continue to validate our natural gas transmission system records and answer questions about our pipelines, we recognize that better record keeping requirements must be implemented industrywide."

The PUC did not respond to calls requesting comment.

maria.laganga@latimes.com

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