Suisun Pipeline Safety Study Coverage

Press Reports on the Suisun Pipeline Safety Study
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Coverage Title Date Published Source
PG&E's blast pipe springs leak in Peninsula test November 5, 2011
One year after San Bruno blast: When watchmen fall asleep at the switch September 6, 2011 Katie Worth SF Chronicle
Suisun pipeline activist lauds recommendations on PG&E September 6, 2011 Daily Republic
PG&E promises release of Suisun City pipeline testing data September 6, 2011 Daily Republic

CPUC Petitioned Over Denial of Pipeline Safety Records

July 15, 2011 NewsBlaze.com
State PUC Hearing - Video Clip
Clip #1 - Clip #2
April 5, 2011  
Aging Gas Pipeline In Suisun Corridor March 31, 2011 KQED Radio
Solano County Man's Research Questions Pipeline Safety March 30, 2011 CBS San Francisco KCBS TV 5

Aging Pipelines Could Pose Threat To Suisun City Neighborhood

March 30, 2011 CBS Sacramento
Study Questions Safety Of Suisun Gas Pipeline March 30, 2011 KTVU TV 2 SF

 


 

PG&E's blast pipe springs leak in Peninsula test

November 5, 2011

PALO ALTO -- The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. gas transmission line that
exploded last year in San Bruno developed an apparent "pinhole leak"
during a safety test this week in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, the company
said Friday.

While testing the line's strength Thursday afternoon with high-pressure
water, crews detected what is believed to be a hole about 1 millimeter in
size somewhere on a 4-mile stretch of the pipe along the southeastern and
southwestern sides of Stanford University, a company spokesman said.
Pressure on the line slowly dropped during the first hour of what was
supposed to be an eight-hour test, indicating a leak, PG&E spokesman Brian
Swanson said.

"It was like a squirt gun - a slow and steady leak," he said.
Swanson said the leak was not an immediate threat to public safety,
because the gas to the pipe had been cut for the test.
The leak was found on Line 132, the transmission pipe that runs 50 miles
from Milpitas to the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. In September
2010, an incomplete weld on a longitudinal seam of Line 132 ruptured in
San Bruno, leading to an explosion that killed eight people and destroyed
38 homes.

The flawed weld could have been detected if PG&E had used a high-pressure
water test on the line, but the company long avoided the inspection method
in favor of one that is best suited at finding corrosion.
Since the explosion, PG&E has embarked on an effort to test about 150
miles of transmission pipe with high-pressure water by the end of the
year. This week's test was along nearly 50 miles of Line 132 that the
company plans to inspect using the method through 2012.
A similar test on another major gas line last month revealed a flaw in the
pipe west of Bakersfield, tearing 6-foot-long hole and creating a small
crater in an alfalfa field. That failure happened at a longitudinal seam
weld, the same problem that led to the San Bruno explosion. Finding the
leak.

The failure Thursday night in Palo Alto was not nearly as large as the
rupture near Bakersfield. But because there's no above-ground evidence of
it, PG&E also doesn't know exactly where it is, or whether the leak is on
a longitudinal seam or somewhere else.

Swanson said crews were spending most of Friday draining the line of
water. Then they will use a specially formulated gas to pinpoint the
leak's location and cause.

Once the problem is found, the pipe will be dug up and repaired. The
company expects that to take several days. In the meantime, gas is being
routed to customers through a parallel line that runs from Milpitas to San
Francisco.

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety expert who is monitoring PG&E's
pipeline safety compliance for an advocacy group, The Utility Reform
Network, said the leak could be on a longitudinal seam, a girth seam that
runs around the pipe, or on the pipe itself.

Finding what could be a tiny crack may be time-consuming, Kuprewicz said.
"But that's the purpose of running a hydro test," he said.

The test was being conducted along a stretch of pipe beginning near Page
Mill Road and El Camino Real in Palo Alto and ending near Sand Hill Road
in Menlo Park. The portion of pipe that failed was 24 inches in diameter,
PG&E said. Most of the line was installed in 1947, although a half-mile
portion was installed 10 years later. How it works: the pressure tests that PG&E is conducting involve cutting off the flow of gas, then filling a line with water and pumping it to levels well above where the company would normally run the line.

When the leak materialized at 4 p.m. Thursday, the pipe was being tested
at 525 pounds per square inch, a level designed to find small leaks. Since
the San Bruno blast, PG&E has operated the line at 300 pounds.

Once the leak is repaired, the full 4 miles will be subjected to a brief
spike test, in which the water will be pumped to 770 pounds, PG&E said.
Debra Katz, a spokeswoman for Palo Alto, said any inconvenience will be
more than offset by knowing the transmission line has been declared safe.

"We're very happy they are doing this, and glad that they are finding the
leak so we don't have to worry about a San Bruno-type event," Katz said.

"This proves why all that time, effort and money was worth spending in
testing."

Copyright 2011 SF Chronicle

 

One year after San Bruno blast: When watchmen fall asleep at the switch
September 6, 2011

By: Katie Worth SF Chronicle

In 1911 the Railroad Commission of California was established because an outraged public demanded there be some regulation of the powerful rail barons that had repeatedly proved they were incapable of regulating themselves.

A century later, that agency — redubbed the California Public Utilities Commission — would come under fire from a once-again outraged public for not adequately regulating a different powerful industry. This time the results were deadly: Eight people died on Sept. 9, 2010, when a PG&E gas transmission line exploded and reduced a San Bruno neighborhood to ash.

Commission leaders initially defended the agency’s oversight of PG&E, but after federal investigators and an independent panel created by the commission both condemned the regulator for a host of inadequacies, even the agency’s leadership has come to agree it bears some responsibility.

The CPUC could have helped avert this disaster, concluded the National Transportation Safety Board, which just wrapped up a yearlong investigation into the pipeline blast. An adequate regulator would have known that PG&E lacked documentation about its pipe system, that its inspection programs were feeble, and that it had an inadequate emergency response plan, NTSB investigators testified in a hearing last week.

Worse, even when they did realize PG&E was violating regulations, the commission simply took industry leaders at their word when they promised to fix the problems, rarely imposing fines or enforcing major changes.

NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said PG&E “exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight” and that regulators placed “blind trust in an operator that doesn’t deserve that trust.”

Earlier this year, the independent panel formed by the CPUC to investigate the San Bruno accident concluded that the state regulatory agency hadn’t been doing its job. The panel’s report said that though well-meaning, the commission’s staff was plagued by a culture satisfied with making sure PG&E was in compliance with regulations — filing paperwork, meeting deadlines, and “checking off boxes.” Meanwhile, the agency’s true mandate to ensure public safety had been obscured. Even when the staff auditors and inspectors did find problems, as they did in an audit months before the San Bruno blast, those concerns were given such low priority that the staff failed to bring them to the full commission for months, the independent panel found. Often, when concerns were brought to the commission, nothing was done and no fines were imposed.

Among other recommendations, the NTSB has urged Gov. Jerry Brown to authorize CPUC safety staff to directly impose fines on the industry, rather than waiting on the full commission to impose penalties.

This host of regulatory failures could result in at least one lawsuit against the agencies overseeing the energy industry. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has threatened to sue the CPUC and its federal counterpart, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, for failing to enforce gas pipeline safety standards.

Because major gas transmission lines run through San Francisco, these regulatory failures placed the people who live and work in The City at risk, Herrera argues.

“It has become increasingly obvious that blame must be shared by regulators who were either asleep at the switch or too cozy with the industry they’re supposed to regulate,” Herrera said in a written statement.

CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon acknowledged his agency has “some responsibility to learn the lessons of San Bruno.”

“Eight people died — nobody at the PUC thinks that we are immune from some responsibility for that,” he said.
And it has already beefed up its oversight, by doubling the number of pipeline safety inspectors it had a year ago, and creating a new unit whose sole responsibility is to ask hard questions about safety.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, noted that historically the CPUC conducted “desk audits,” where they rarely conducted site visits or dug more deeply into safety issues than necessary. She said auditors once “were easily persuaded by the utility to cut corners,” but that has now drastically changed.

And the makeup of the commission itself has changed, she said. Three of the five members on the board last year have since been replaced by appointments from Gov. Jerry Brown, bringing a more consumer-oriented bent to the board.

Among the new commissioners is Mike Florio, who spent much of his career fighting for consumers as the general counsel of advocacy group The Utility Reform Network. He said the agency must accept “a fair share of the blame” for San Bruno.

“It’s not that people were slacking off, but I think they weren’t asking the right questions, or asking the hard questions,” he said.  “I think it’s in the process of being transformed. I think the whole situation really shook people here. All of us had become a little bit complacent.”

 

Disaster’s regulatory aftermath

San Bruno has already inspired a host of regulatory changes:

  • Every state pipeline operator must test or replace all pipelines that they lack records of testing before.
  • State operators can no longer solely use the cheap but lax “direct assessment” method to test pipes.
  • Pipeline operators must immediately call 911 when a possible rupture is detected.
  • Pipeline operators nationwide must proactively adapt their management strategies to avoid the circumstances of the San Bruno explosion.
  • Pipeline operators nationwide must notify first responders about the pipelines that run through their regions.

 

Outnumbered

9: Number of CPUC safety inspectors before blast
11,000: Average miles of pipeline per safety inspector before blast
18: Number of safety inspectors now
5,500: Average miles of pipeline per safety inspector now

Source: California Public Utilities Commission

 

Industry and regulators share messy family tree

Ask Paul Clanon whether his agency deserves the reputation of being too cozy with the industry it regulates, and you can feel his temperature rising.

“I think it’s completely off-base. It’s completely wrong in every way,” said the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission.

But those people don’t seem to be going away. For the past year, the regulator has been under the microscope after a San Bruno neighborhood was maimed by an exploding PG&E natural gas pipeline. Those looking through that microscope — media, residents and lawmakers — have continued to question whether the regulator was complicit in the tragedy because it was too trusting and permissive with the industry it was tasked to put limits on.

Clanon’s outright dismissal of these concerns did not sit well with Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

“If he believes that then it’s time for him to go, because he’s living in a dream world,” Hill said.

Hill was among those who have questioned whether the commission and its staff are too enmeshed in the industries it regulates. He has repeatedly asked the commission about its staff general counsel, Frank Lindh, who worked for 16 years as an attorney for PG&E. Lindh is now participating in an investigation into PG&E, and Hill has asked whether there may be a conflict of interest.

Lindh has many defenders, even among consumer advocates who faced him when he worked for PG&E.

Sam Kang, general counsel of consumer advocate Greenlining Institute, described Lindh as a “great resource” for the advocates of the underserved who is “extremely well-respected by the industry, within the PUC and by consumer advocates.”

But as The San Francisco Examiner reported last month, Lindh is hardly the only person who has traveled between the industry and its regulator: the last executive director now is an energy consultant. The current commission president is a former utility executive. A former commissioner now is the executive of another utility. One Arnold Schwarzenegger-appointed director of government relations was an industry lobbyist before taking the position and went directly back into lobbying afterward.

Judy Nadler, a government ethicist at Santa Clara University, called such interconnections a “family tree syndrome — put everybody up there and you could link them all, one way or the other.”

She said this can be particularly problematic for an agency like the Public Utilities Commission, which runs under the public radar until something like the San Bruno tragedy occurs.

 

Revolving-door regulation?

As The San Francisco Examiner reported last month, critics have accused the California Public Utilities Commission of being “too cozy” with the energy industry it regulates. Here are a handful of leaders who have leadership positions from both the commission and the industry on their résumés.

FRANK LINDH
Worked as an attorney for PG&E for 16 years before being named general counsel of the CPUC in 2008.

MICHAEL PEEVEY
Has served as president of CPUC since 2002. Earlier in his career, he was president of energy company NewEnergy Inc., and prior to that led the utility Southern California Edison.

DELANEY HUNTER
Worked as energy lobbyist before being CPUC’s director of governmental affairs in 2005. Left commission in 2008 to return to energy lobbying.

STEVE LARSON
Served as CPUC executive director from 2005 to 2007 and was director of its energy division for eight years before that. Left to become executive for a natural gas company.

JESSIE KNIGHT JR.
Knight was appointed in 1993 to the CPUC, where he served until 1999. Years later he would go on to become the CEO and chairman of San Diego Gas & Electric.

Suisun pipeline activist lauds recommendations on PG&E
September 6, 2011
Daily Republic

SUISUN CITY — News that the National Transportation Safety Board found Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to blame for the September 2010 inferno in San Bruno came as no surprise to pipeline safety advocate Anthony Moscarelli.

The Suisun City man still awaits the results of a late-spring inspection PG&E made of the natural gas pipelines that run through Suisun City to find out if it has the same flaws that federal investigators determined caused the San Bruno explosion.

“It was not as strong as I would have liked it to be, but it was stronger than I expected,” Moscarelli said of the wrapup of the NTSB’s investigation and its recommendations.

The NTSB finished its year-long investigation Tuesday, calling for the overhaul of federal and state regulatory laws governing pipelines. One of those was doing away with a grandfathering provision that allowed utilities to run some of their oldest pipeline sections without subjecting them to tests that modern pipes are required to undergo.

“That needs to stop,” Moscarelli said. “It keeps PG&E from repairing pipelines when they should.”

Suisun City has two pipelines, a 16-inch line built in 1949 and a 32-inch line built in 1965, according to information provided to Moscarelli from PG&E.

PG&E representatives have said the energy company has extensively checked its pipelines to ensure that they are safe. The company brought in a one-of-its-kind torpedo-shaped inspection device called a smart pig to go through the larger of the Suisun City pipelines. As of late Wednesday afternoon, PG&E had yet to respond to phone calls asking if the company would release the results of the inspection.

One NTSB recommendation is to make companies convert pipelines to a size that allows the smart pig access. Pipelines such as the smaller 14-inch pipe in Suisun City would have to be enlarged to let the smart pig in.

Moscarelli said he hopes the NTSB’s recommendations aren’t the end of the road. He said he wants to not only see PG&E’s feet held to the fire to improve its pipeline system’s safety, but for stronger oversight of the utility.

Earlier this year, Moscarelli released a study that he and pipeline safety expert Robert Curry wrote, evaluating the safety of the two natural gas pipelines that run through Suisun City along the north side of Highway 12.

The study voiced concern about how old the pipelines are and how much pressure was used to pump the natural gas through them.

Moscarelli also called on PG&E and the Public Utilities Commission to release more specific information from an inspection that the larger of two pipelines underwent.

“We want to get that data, go over it with them and we want to know about any plans for automatic shut-off valves,” Moscarelli said.

He said he also wants to know whether PG&E will lower the pressure on its lines.

Moscarelli is concerned the cost of any major testing and upgrade of natural gas pipelines will be passed on to PG&E’s customers, he said. PG&E should do the work of testing and replacement of older pipelines without raising costs, he said, “but you don’t hear them doing it because it will hit their shareholders.”

“We hope to be in the loop with PG&E and we are still waiting to have PG&E contact us with the (pipeline inspection) data,” Moscarelli said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or ithompson@dailyrepublic.net.

 

PG&E promises release of Suisun City pipeline testing data
September 6, 2011
Daily Republic

SUISUN CITY — Suisun City could find out soon whether one of its natural gas pipelines is safe.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Jason King said the results of a late-spring testing of the 32-inch pipeline that runs through Suisun City could be released within the next few weeks.

Pipeline safety advocate Anthony Moscarelli has been waiting for these results for three months — a month longer than he said he was initially told it would take.

Earlier this year, Moscarelli and pipeline expert Robert Curry released a study funded by California Healthy Communities Network that evaluated the two natural gas pipelines and the jet-fuel pipeline that run along Highway 12 through Suisun City only yards from residential neighborhoods.

The study voiced concern that the PG&E pipelines were old, built in 1949 and 1965, respectively, and that the pressure under which the natural gas is pumped through the pipelines is near the tolerance limit of the pipelines.

Moscarelli said at the time he needed more data from the testing to better determine whether they are safe. That testing was carried out by a large torpedo-like robotic testing device called a smart pig. The smart pig is too large to fit into the smaller pipeline.

“The results are not yet back from the round of gas-line pigging testing we did and we are fully committed to sharing them with Mr. Moscarelli of Suisun when they come back,” King said in response to a Daily Republic inquiry about the status of the testing results.

The smart pig takes measurements of the pipe wall’s thickness and looks for other anomalies in the pipe. That data is then plugged into a computer model to examine the conditions of the thickness and any welds.

“It will then allow us to deal with any problems proactively and fix those issues,” King said.

PG&E undertook the testing of thousands of miles of pipelines after the catastrophic Sept. 9, 2010, pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and shattered the neighborhood.

Moscarelli said he is taking a wait-and-see attitude on when he expects to see the testing results. He said PG&E’s credibility “is in the dumps” after a year of revelations about what the National Transportation Safety Board called a cascade of failures that led to the San Bruno explosion. The results will be independently and vigorously examined, Moscarelli said.

Moscarelli voiced concern about the pipeline’s proximity to the proposed Super Walmart site northwest of Highway 12 and Walters Road. He said Suisun City officials should be asking tough questions about how the pipeline will affect public safety at the proposed Walmart.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or ithompson@dailyrepublic.net

 

CPUC Petitioned Over Denial of Pipeline Safety Records
July 15, 2011
NewsBlaze.com

Gas pipeline research group Thursday will ask CPUC why it invoked 'national security' in denial of pipeline safety information request amid concerns about aging PG&E pipelines

A neighborhood pipeline research group will petition the CPUC at its meeting here Thursday (July 14) over a denial by the commission to provide safety information related to two large PG&E gas transmission lines in Suisun City near residences and a proposed major retail development.

The CPUC meeting is set for 9 a.m. at 505 Van Ness Avenue.

Healthy Community Research of Suisun City (HCRSC) said at a news conference last week that aging PG&E lines near Highway 12 could produce gas explosion larger than the one in San Bruno, and would level nearby homes and a major retail development, including a Super Walmart scheduled to be built near the pipelines.

Because of these concerns, HCRSC has been attempting to collect pipeline safety data. But, according to a denial letter sent by the CPUC, PG&E said it couldn't disclose safety and encroachment information because of "national security." PG&E has since said it was not a party to such a denial.

PG&E admitted earlier this month it had misclassified 172 miles of gas transmission pipelines - wrongly considering them to be exempt from rigorous federal safety standards - because it did not accurately account for the development around them.

In a letter to be delivered to the CPUC Thursday, HCRSC project coordinator Anthony Moscarelli said: "We are here today to question why the rejection of our request for procedural and documentary information on CPUC records that cover statutory federal regulation enforcement has anything to do with PG&E and needs National Security protection from the public? Why are the CPUC operating procedures immune to a Public Records request?" Full letter available upon request.

 

Aging Gas Pipeline In Suisun Corridor
March 31, 2011
KQED Radio

Local activists are raising concerns about aging natural gas pipelines under Suisun City. A study from the California Healthy Communities Network says the Suisun line could be more dangerous than the line in San Bruno which exploded in September. The federally funded study finds the Suisun Corridor contains segments of pipe as much as 60 years old, running under areas that are now densely populated, and in close proximity to jet fuel lines at Travis Air Force Base. A PG&E spokesman says the company is doing extensive pressure testing of its natural gas lines -- especially those in high population areas.
 


Solano County Man's Research Questions Pipeline Safety
March 30, 2011
CBS San Francisco TV 5




Aging Pipelines Could Pose Threat To Suisun City Neighborhood
March 30, 2011
CBS Sacramento

SUISUN CITY, Calif. (CBS13) -- A pair of old pipelines near a residential neighborhood close to Travis Air Force Base has the potential to cause serious damage and disrupt utilities services to Northern California, according to a federally funded report.

Anthony Moscarelli, a former Lawrence Berkeley engineer and one of the researchers for the study, said a PG&E pipeline and a jet fuel line run closely together near the military base.

If one of the pipelines were to suffer a serious problem, there could be a threat to the nearby neighborhood.

“One was put in 1949 and the other one in 1965,” Moscarelli said.

The jet fuel line runs with 15 feet of the PG&E line and has not be free of problems, he said.

“We found from their own studies that we got from the Freedom of Information Act… that the jet fuel line is not in good condition at all,” Moscarelli said.

The report (.pdf), prepared for the California Healthy Communities Network and the Tides Foundation by Dr. Robert Curry of Watershed Systems, said the region was rural farmland when the pipelines were installed.

Residents who live in the area now said they were aware the pipeline existed but not that it was decades old.

“I live not even 100 feet from the line, so that could be devastating for me, my neighbors, the whole neighborhood,” said James Burke.

Moscarelli said an explosion could produce a worse disaster than the San Bruno gas explosion in 2010 and cut off most of Northern California from gas.

“This is a feeder line, and comes through and feeds most of Northern California,” he said.

The report urges PG&E to boost maintenance on their older lines and also work on upgrading their infrastructure over the next 50 years.

PG&E sent CBS13 a statement Wednesday afternoon:

“Safety is the highest priority to PG&E. Since San bruno, a lot of additional steps are in place to ensure the safety of our customers, including leak surveys of transmission lines and we are still in the midst of hydrostatically testing 150 miles of lines this year alone. Both gas lines in Suisun City are scheduled for internal testing, one next month and the other in 2012.”
 


Study Questions Safety Of Suisun Gas Pipeline
March 30, 2011
KTVU TV 2 SF

SUISUN CITY, Calif. -- An aging underground gas pipeline located underneath the Suisun City corridor could pose a greater threat than the one that erupted into a fatal fireball in San Bruno, a new study revealed Wednesday.

Anthony Moscarelli, a retired engineer from the Lawrence Livermore Lab, received a federal grant to study the safety of the gas line that runs through Suisun, Fairfield and into the Travis Air Force Base.

`I was worried about the aging pipelines even before the San Bruno explosion," said Moscarelli whose home is within 25 yards of the gas line. "Most people don't know where the pipelines are … They can be like a ticking time bomb if not inspected.

"The retired engineer released the report at a Wednesday news conference, but PG&E has not commented on the findings.

Moscarelli said a major rupture of the line could result in a more deadly and destruction explosion than in San Bruno because it runs near pipelines carrying jet fuel to Travis Air Force base.

The Sept. 9 San Bruno blast killed eight people and destroyed three dozen homes.

Regulators ordered PG&E to provide detailed engineering records soon after the accident. The utility provided summary documents, but company officials acknowledged they could not find key safety records for 8 percent of lines running through populated areas.

Regulators and lawmakers have sharply criticized PG&E for relying on documents showing historical pressure levels for older pipelines rather than actual pressure tests or engineering work.

The utility could not turn up pressure tests for 69 percent of transmission lines laid before 1961 in densely populated areas.

PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said the company would pay the first $3 million installment of the proposed reduced fines within 10 days if the commission approves the tentative agreement, which could happen as soon as April 14.

"Safety is our highest responsibility and we share the commission's goal of enhancing the safety of the natural gas system," Molica said.

 

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