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PG&E Facing Fines For Pipe Record Keeping Errors

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) could face fines of more than $100 million for its past natural gas system record-keeping errors that contributed to pipeline failures and explosions. PG&E officials said they will respond to the fine proposal by March 31.

The California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) recommended a fine of $111.9 million for PG&E for alleged failures regarding its records for its natural gas distribution system. The San Francisco-based combination utility's distribution record-keeping is part of an ongoing proceeding at the CPUC (see Daily GPIMarch 17, 2014).

CPUC investigators have been looking at whether PG&E violated any provisions of the state public utilities code, general orders or federal law adopted by the state in its record-keeping policies and practices, which have come under scrutiny since the September 2010 San Bruno, CA, transmission pipeline explosion (see Daily GPISept. 15, 2010).

SED has concluded the utility should be held responsible for what it alleged were violations of 11 codes and rules. It contends that gas distribution record-keeping requirements have been in place for decades, PG&E has known about "its gas distribution record keeping failures for decades," and the impacts of the alleged failures have been felt across the utility system.

"PG&E's gas distribution record-keeping remains deeply flawed," SED attorney Edward Moldavsky wrote in the opening brief, citing a utility witness at recently completed hearings in the case. He argued that the underlying cause of six separate incidents was "failures in record-keeping," usually related to PG&E's failure to include maintenance records or other changes to facilities after they are installed.

PG&E disagrees with the SED's and other recommendations  and conclusions, a San Francisco-based utility spokesperson told NGI on Monday. "We believe they misinterpreted applicable regulations and the record in this proceeding, and they failed to acknowledge the significant improvements PG&E has made to its distribution records," he said.

While acknowledging there is still work to be done in improving utility gas distribution record-keeping, the spokesperson said PG&E has made "extensive progress" over the past five years, including: consolidating/digitizing more than 12 million pages of gas service records; deploying a gas distribution geographical information system; giving field employees the authority to stop a job if the records don't match what is uncovered in the field; and providing real-time, laptop available records to workers in the field.

Nevertheless, SED's filing recommends that PG&E be ordered to take eight steps to remediate its record-keeping problems dealing with alleged missing, incomplete, inaccurate records and maps, along with unknown plastic pipe inserts, unmapped stubs, damage prevention, distribution pipelines' maximum allowable operating pressures (MAOP), and checking/verifying MAOPs on 243 parts of the utility distribution system.

Since the San Bruno transmission pipeline explosion, PG&E has been fined more than $2 billion by the CPUC (see Daily GPI,June 10, 2013).

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