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Monday, May 21, 2012

PG&E Pipeline Pressure Surges Are a Real Threat

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 1:20 PM

That should be a hint
  • That should be a hint

PG&E is starting to feel some unwanted pressure over its gas pipelines. The company is being asked to be much more transparent following a federal directive requiring all utilities to maintain and report instances of pressure surges along their gas pipelines.

That might be a tall order for PG&E, given the company's history of slipshod record-keeping.

As the Chronicle reported this weekend, PG&E has over-pressurized its pipelines more than 120 times since September 2010. When pressure increases beyond a pipeline's designated maximum capacity, so does the likelihood of disastrous incidents, like the 2010 San Bruno explosion.

By keeping more accurate records of pressure surges -- and reporting them -- companies can identify and remedy problematic pipeline segments before blasts happen. Last year, PG&E recorded 78 surges, and this year it could surpass that number; 43 surges have already been reported. Repeated pressure surges increase the risk of failure on "weak spots," decades-old sections of piping that have exceeded their intended lifespan and are below the quality standards of pipelines produced today.

As the Chronicle points out,

PG&E's competitors, Southern California Gas Company and San Diego

Gas and Electric, had a total of two major surges in pressure on

transmission lines collectively between 2008 and 2010.

And while the feds are demanding these companies give us more transparency, the

question remains: How accurate are PG&E's own records? Unfortunately, the company's history shows a less-than-stellar history of

maintenance and owning up to its problematic pipelines. A letter to the

company from the National Transportation Safety Board on Jan. 3 details PG&E'a shoddy record-keeping on conditions of its

pipelines.

Meanwhile, the San Bruno explosion killed eight people, destroyed 37 homes, and damaged an additional 18. The segment of

pipeline that ruptured in that incident had been installed in 1956.

After

conducting its own investigation of the incident, the National

Transportation Safety Board demanded that PG&E "use traceable,

verifiable and complete records ... to ensure safe operations" 17 months ago.

Mounting

numbers of pressure surges are warning signs indicating potential

explosions. We should be listening to those warnings.

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Laura Rena Murray

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