Stung by strong customer and community criticism, San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Tuesday announced a five-part, multi-year effort to greatly strengthen the safety and reliability of its natural gas transmission pipeline system. Called Pipeline 2020, the program will augment initiatives implemented by the combination utility in the wake of the Sept. 9 pipeline explosion and fire that killed seven people in San Bruno, CA.

The five areas of emphasis, which involve closer collaborative efforts with local, state and federal officials, include:

In consultation with regulators and various industry experts, President Christopher Johns said the utility will undertake a modernization initiative on key transmission pipeline segments located in heavily populated and other critical areas. A third-party expert will be used to make the review and assessment with the goal of making sure that all critical lines can accommodate state-of-the-art inspections, including internal "pigging" technologies.

Similarly, collaboration will be used in expanding automatic or remote pipeline shutoff devices, and the utility will provide $10 million of shareholder funds to establish an independent, nonprofit organization to develop new pipeline technologies.

In partnership with local communities and public officials, PG&E will establish added pipeline safety and awareness/training, including detailed public information on the location of pipelines and emergency response plans.

"PG&E will collaborate with state and federal regulators, industry and scientific experts, and local agencies to enhance our ongoing efforts to adopt industry best practices, invest in system upgrades and where possible advance the state of the art of gas pipeline inspection procedures and technology," Johns said.

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