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PG&E Reports, Pledges to Fix Corrosion Prevention System

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) on Tuesday voluntarily reported to California regulators 180 instances in which parts of its natural gas transmission pipeline system were in violation of requirements related to cathodic protection to help prevent pipe deterioration and leaks.

In a letter notifying the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), PG&E said its failure to meet self-imposed standards for programs designed to prevent corrosion of the pipelines turned up "a limited number of inspection locations." Attached to the correspondence was a listing of the 180 pipeline segments needing corrections, noting that they are spread over 32 counties, including 65 cities and numerous unincorporated areas. Some infractions dated back to 2004, a utility spokesperson said.

Corrections are expected to be completed in the next 30-60 days at all of the locations, according to PG&E's Bill Gibson, regulatory compliance and support director who wrote to CPUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division (CPSD) chief Jack Hagan. The letter also confirmed that all of the pipeline segments in question have been surveyed and no leaks were found.

PG&E plans to review its cathodic protection records overall to determine if any additional records have what he called "nonroutine pipe-to-soil measurements recorded outside of [our] established criteria," Gibson's letter stated. If needed, he promised remedial action to correct the situation and an updated report to the CPSD staff. PG&E also plans to notify local authorities in the cities and counties where the 180 affected pipe segments were found.

As PG&E attempts to enhance the safety and efficiency of its gas transmission and distribution systems in the wake of the deadly September 2010 transmission pipeline rupture and explosion in San Bruno, CA, south of San Francisco, it has made several major voluntary disclosures to CPUC safety staff, but the CPSD with newly obtained penalty assessing authority have not pulled any punches in pending penalty phases of post-San Bruno proceedings at the CPUC (see Daily GPI, April 20).

The corrosion protection technology uses electricity to control underground pipeline vulnerability and is widely used across the industry, PG&E's spokesperson said. Where necessary the utility is adjusting the amounts of electrical current employed to protect against corrosion.

PG&E Executive Vice President Nick Stavropoulos said "there can be no compromises for running a safe operation and being transparent about it." When the CPUC denied the utility's appeal of a $16.7 million staff-imposed pipeline fine and assessed a separate $3 million penalty in April for shoddy record-keeping on its pipeline system dating back years, the company understands "that when we make a mistake, we must own up. That's what happened when our employees brought the missed leak survey maps to our attention last year."

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