Reflecting new federal mandates following the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion in September, new California Gov. Jerry Brown's stripped-down state budget proposal released Monday included more money for gas pipeline safety efforts. Although the amounts are small, they come in a budget that carries $12.5 billion in spending cuts and a proposed 8-10% pay cut for state employees.

Brown said he was taking a 10-year view on trying to curb California's growing deficits, starting with a measure on a special election ballot in June that would seek voter approval to keep current taxes in place during the next five years when an overall restructuring of the state government is expected to begin.

The governor has included increased funding at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to oversee additional efforts by the state's major private-sector gas utilities and to expand its pipeline safety staff.

In a budget that is slashing billions of dollars, Brown has proposed beefing up the money and the personnel the CPUC has to carry out a stepped-up pipeline safety oversight effort ($448,000 and four new safety engineer positions). At the request of lawmakers last fall, the CPUC already has hired the safety engineers, a commission spokesperson in San Francisco told NGI late Monday.

Last Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued "urgent" requests to the CPUC and each of the major utilities it regulates, including Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) (see Daily GPI, Jan. 5). NTSB expressed concerns that inaccurate records can compromise safety. Three urgent recommendations were directed at the utility, and another three at the CPUC, which has already made similar requests of PG&E regarding its records in the aftermath of San Bruno.

The stepped-up regulatory scrutiny comes at a time when other PG&E staffers told NGI at the beginning of this year that seasonal peak demands will not force it to have to raise gas transmission pipeline pressures on lines that were ordered to operate at lower pressures in the wake of the Sept. 9 pipeline explosion.

"The new [federal] regulations require pipeline operators to establish programs for public awareness, distribution integrity management, and control room management," Brown's budget proposal said. The NTSB expressed concerns about PG&E's performance in all three of these areas as part of its interim report on the San Bruno pipeline explosion and fire that killed eight people and destroyed more than three dozen homes.

NTSB cited the fact that PG&E's records for the segment of the 30-inch diameter pipeline (Line 132) that ruptured indicated that it was seamless pipe, while the agency's interim report by the federal investigators last month described pipe constructed with longitudinal seam welds. It further reported that some of the pipe was welded both inside and outside, and other parts only had external welds.

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