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Sempra California Gas Utilities Push Back Against CPUC Consumer Unit in Pipeline Probe

Pushing back against allegations of recordkeeping violations for its connecting transmission pipeline in North San Diego County, Sempra Energy's two California natural gas utilities are working with state regulators.

The companies are cooperating with the California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) safety and enforcement division (SED) regarding classification issues surrounding Sempra’s Line 1600. SED plans to meet with Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E) in August or September to resolve the issue.

"We've been in direct communications with the SED for nearly a year," said a Sempra utilities spokesperson, noting that the safety division, and not the CPUC consumer unit in the Office of Ratepayer Advocacy (ORA), is responsible for safety issues.

Earlier this month, ORA asked the five-member CPUC to require SoCalGas and SDG&E to explain alleged inaccuracies in the safety records of Line 1600, a 16-inch diameter pipeline that runs from the Rainbow metering station in Fallbrook, CA, to mission base at the northern end of San Diego. Line 1600 runs for nearly 50 miles, 33 of which are in densely populated areas.

In a motion filed with the CPUC, ORA claimed it has evidence that the companies violated federal safety regulations designed to protect communities through which major high-pressure pipelines pass. The SED has already reviewed Line 1600 records, according to Sempra's utilities, who welcome another independent audit.

A utility spokesperson reiterated that Line 1600 is operating safety. "We have lowered the maximum allowable operating pressure [MAOP] by 20% twice since 2011, inspected the pipeline, increased our frequency of surveys and completed maintenance repairs when needed," she said.

Countering the ORA allegations, Sempra contends its records on the pipeline are "complete and accurate," stressing that the consumer unit's assertion of violations were made in response to applications by the utilities that have been under review by the CPUC for years. In a separate move last Thursday, the CPUC rejected a long-standing proposal by SoCalGas and SDG&E to build a $639 million, 36-inch diameter transmission line to replace Line 1600

The utilities continue to operate, inspect and maintain Line 1600 in accordance with standards and federal regulations as if it were classified at a higher rating, the spokesperson said. "They are treating the pipeline as if the classification had been changed, even though the discussions and decisions to make that potential change will not take place until this coming fall."

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