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PG&E to Add 1,400 Gas Workers, Centralize Control

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) plans to expand its natural gas work force in California by 1,400 positions and centralize overall control of its nearly 50,000 miles of transmission and distribution pipelines by 2015, according to a 45-page plan the San Francisco-based combination utility has filed with state regulators.

Separate from a $2.2 billion pipeline enhancement plan now being reviewed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the gas safety plan was submitted in response to a state law signed last October by Gov. Jerry Brown requiring the state's gas system operators to make periodic reports on the status of their gas safety actions. PG&E said the safety plan highlights "current and committed work and connects the dots" on the utility's ongoing efforts to ensure a safe and reliable gas system, following the fatal rupture and explosion nearly two years ago in San Bruno, CA.

Nick Stavropoulos, PG&E's executive vice president running the gas operations, called the filing a "road map to becoming one of the nation's safety gas utilities," noting that the document represents input from all levels of the giant utility's gas organization and the National Transportation Safety Board, which last month outlined a dozen recommendations (see NGI, July 2).

PG&E's latest plan focuses on creating a safety "culture"; better training of the gas organization work force; hiring a substantial number of gas system employees; and consolidating separate distribution, transmission and dispatch control centers into one facility by mid-2013. The plan will take time to implement, a PG&E spokesperson said. Training is slated to take from now to 2015, and hiring 1,400 additional gas workers is to take through 2014.

State and federal regulators, as well as citizen stakeholders, have been unsparing in their criticism of PG&E's gas system operations, as well as in the self-reported violations that PG&E divulged to the CPUC this year (see NGI, March 21, 2011).

Last week a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, based on a PG&E filing in March, indicated doubts about the utility's pipeline system and its efforts to improve safety and reliability. PG&E's report to the CPUC cited up to 239 potentially at-risk pipe segments that combined represented nearly 50 miles of pipeline. The segments at one time may have had their pressures pushed above maximum allowable operating pressures.

PG&E and consultant Kiefner and Associates Inc. put together an engineering critical assessment (ECA) that was the basis for the utility's immediate focus to determine if the potentially at-risk segments had been compromised by "unstable" pipeline manufacturing or a problem created during pipeline construction. The potentially troublesome segments included part of two pipelines running north to south along the peninsula south of San Francisco, specifically lines 109 and 132, whose segment failed in San Bruno.

Segments are slated for testing, replacement or direct testing with smart interior equipment looking through the internal and external parts of each line. Identification of the potentially troubled segments came as part of the ECA.

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