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CPUC Cites PG&E, SoCalGas for Safety Violations

Under a citation program created in the wake of the San Bruno natural gas transmission pipeline failure, California regulators on Friday said their staff has cited Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) for multiple gas system violations, and to a lesser extent Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas).

The citations for PG&E total $530,000 -- $430,000 for three violations of federal requirements on properly responding to risks that are uncovered, and another $100,000 for two violations in operator qualification procedures. SoCalGas was hit with a $50,000 citation for an employee found smoking inside a fenced gas pipeline valve station.

Violations were found by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) safety and enforcement staff during audits performed in the past two to three years. The utilities have 10 calendar days to pay or contest the staff citations, the CPUC spokesperson said.

Federal pipeline safety requirements call for utilities to understand the risks faced by their systems and effectively manage system integrity, including requirements to periodically inspect and test pipelines to identify and repair potentially hazardous defects.

CPUC staff said that among several issues found during an audit, PG&E failed to immediately excavate and examine pipelines that showed signs of potential corrosion. Violations were first noted in September 2012, and eventually confirmed by CPUC safety staff this past year.

The two violations totaling $100,000 related to a gap in PG&E procedures that allowed the potential for nonqualified personnel to perform field work, which could cause a hazardous condition for public and utility employees.

SoCalGas' violation cites the utility for not living up to its responsibility to control sources of ignition -- not limited to cigarettes -- within transmission and storage facilities.

The CPUC originally created its staff-empowered citation program in 2011 and expanded its staff's authority in the safety area in 2013 (see Daily GPI, May 13, 2013), allowing staff to levy fines, payable by shareholders, against public utilities.

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