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California Expands Pipeline Safety Regulation

In the wake of the San Bruno, CA, natural gas pipeline rupture last September, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for the second time in the past nine months has moved to beef up its staffing and oversight of the state's natural gas transmission pipeline system, which is operated for the most part by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and Sempra Energy utilities Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric Co.

The CPUC said it intends to fill nine newly created positions, four of which will be part of a new risk assessment unit created since a PG&E gas transmission pipeline failed in San Bruno last Sept. 9, killing eight people and destroying a quiet residential neighborhood about 10 miles south of San Francisco. PG&E and the CPUC have struggled to get their arms around the records review, investigations and safety/maintenance work that the San Bruno tragedy unleashed (see Daily GPI, July 6).

With four new pipeline safety inspector positions added last December, the CPUC now has doubled the size of the pipeline oversight personnel that the regulators had in place before the San Bruno pipeline accident. Despite looming state budget cuts, lawmakers and regulators have publicly said that the CPUC needs even more people in its gas pipeline units.

Also on Thursday the CPUC said its new Risk Assessment Unit will research, develop and propose tools to improve pipeline safety and oversight in the state, something that a CPUC advisory panel last month was critical of in reporting its findings (see Daily GPI, June 10).

"The San Bruno explosion has to be a game-changer for pipeline safety in California, including changing how the CPUC does its job," said CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon. "[Our] independent review panel gave us a blueprint last month now we're building a new CPUC gas safety program to embody the lessons of San Bruno."

CPUC President Michael Peevey said the state regulatory commission is striving to establish "a new national standard in safety rules for gas pipelines."

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