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NTSB Chair Tours San Bruno Site, Chides PG&E

The head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Wednesday toured the site of last September's gas transmission pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, taking time to criticize Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and offering additional recommendations for improving communications between pipeline operators and communities.

Deborah Hersman told reporters that despite the San Bruno investigation being in "high-priority mode," PG&E appeared to be slow in revealing that there was a leak on the San Bruno pipeline (Line 132) back in 1988. She told the Los Angeles Times that her investigating team was "very disappointed" this latest information only came to light in the past few weeks. "It is frustrating to our investigative team so late in the game."

While admitting that the utility's record-keeping practices on its pipelines need improvement, a PG&E spokesperson pointed out that the leak on Line 132 occurred nine or 10 miles south of the site in San Bruno where an explosion and fire killed eight people and destroyed a quiet residential neighborhood.

The 1988 leak information cites a "longitudinal weld defect," which is one of the suspected causes being investigated by the NTSB in its ongoing work regarding the San Bruno explosion. PG&E contends that as soon as the information on the leak was uncovered it reported the finding to NTSB last May 20.

Hersman used the visit to outline three more recommendations that NTSB is making in the wake of San Bruno:

Hersman toured the San Bruno site with California Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo County), who has been critical of PG&E. Last month on another tour of the site, Speier criticized the San Francisco-based combination utility for allegedly scrimping in the past on replacement of pipe that it is now spending millions of dollars to hydrostatically test (see Daily GPI, May 18).

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