California is looking at a new law that would require all of the state's intrastate natural gas transmission pipelines to be equipped with remotely controlled, automatic shutoff valves. Currently only some of the more than 10,000 miles of intrastate gas transmission pipelines have this capability.

As part of the federal hearings on the rupture of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s (PG&E) 30-inch diameter pipe (Line 132) in San Bruno, CA, last September, PG&E emphasized that it does have automatic/remotely operated shutoff valves and it is working with energy industry experts to determine the best use of additional automatic valves. The utility said it intends to "significantly increase" the use of the automatic valves where it makes sense to do so.

The utility's lack of automatic valve-closing capability on the transmission line that failed was a major source of questioning at National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearings March 1-3. PG&E told the safety hearing in Washington, DC, (see Daily GPI, March 3) that it is conducting a pilot installation of 12 remote, automatic valves and will be filing with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to lay out a plan for substantially increasing their use.

The proposed law (SB 216) authored by state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) would expand CPUC authority in this area to have it evaluate current practices and to determine whether compatible safety standards are needed. It would also have the state energy authorities work with the federal government (Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Pipeline Administration) to "adopt and enforce compatible safety standards."

To get the issue of the auto/remote valves covered, SB 216 creates a new section (770.6) in the state regulatory code seeking more stringent standards for intrastate gas pipelines.

A PG&E spokesperson told NGI that the utility is "committed to working with Sen. Yee" on the proposed bill, although the company has not taken a formal stand on the legislation. PG&E plans to make a filing to the CPUC later this year to pinpoint more areas where it would propose to install remotely controlled shutoff valves, the spokesperson said.

In Washington NTSB investigators grilled one of the PG&E engineers, Chih-hung Lee, a senior consulting gas engineer, who five years ago completed an internal analysis that concluded that there was no safety advantage to adding remote valves on Line 132.

"We continue to learn from the tragedy in San Bruno and adapt our operations based on the findings of various reviews, including the NTSB's investigation as well as our own," said PG&E utility President Christopher Johns. "We intend to share the lessons we learn with the industry to enhance gas safety across the United States."

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