California regulators scolded Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) Wednesday for allegedly failing to heed an order to complete a data search on the past pressure testing of all of its natural gas transmission pipelines in heavily populated areas. Instead, PG&E submitted incomplete data on Tuesday that even its president said he was not satisfied with (see Daily GPI, March 17).
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said PG&E was in "willful noncompliance" that could jeopardize public safety. The CPUC staff is considering whether to recommend that the five-member panel impose fines and penalties on the utility.
Separately, on Wednesday Standard & Poor's Ratings Services changed its credit rating outlook on PG&E to negative and lowered in business profile rating, citing the utility report to the CPUC as "missing key records needed to document safe operating pressures for portions of its pipelines...this development may lead to heavy fines for the company...and in our view, indicates management inattentiveness to utility operations."
On Jan. 3 the CPUC directed PG&E to undertake urgent safety recommendations that were issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as part of its ongoing investigation into the cause of the Sept. 9 fatal transmission pipeline rupture in San Bruno, CA. "PG&E failed to comply with [our] demand," CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon said in a letter sent Wednesday to PG&E President Christopher Johns.
Clanon told Johns that state regulators "must be certain that PG&E knows the types of pipes it has in the ground in order to know the maximum pressure under which those pipes can operate safely." Clanon's letter demands that the utility provide the documents and analysis required by both the state and NTSB.
Clanon called PG&E's actions as reflected in its data submittal Tuesday "particularly inexcusable in the wake of the tragedy at San Bruno." The CPUC is particularly concerned by PG&E's interpretation of its records search as being to either find pressure test records for pipes or a "determination of maximum allowable operating pressure [MAOP] based on the historical high operating pressure" of a given pipeline.
"PG&E has no legitimate or good-faith basis for [that] conclusion," said Clanon, who characterized the whole purpose of the NTSB's urgent safety recommendation and the CPUC directive as "finding, to the extent possible, a basis for setting MAOP by means other than the grandfathering method described in the PG&E [data filing] response."
Clanon directed the utility to "forthwith comply, fully and in good faith, with the terms of the commission ruling."
Earlier this year after the NTSB issued urgent recommendations on the record-keeping issues (see Daily GPI, Jan. 5), the CPUC directed PG&E and other major utility pipeline operators in the state to conduct pressure tests on any pipeline segments for which there were not accurate records of previous tests (see Daily GPI, Jan. 19).
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