The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said Friday it will consider at its upcoming meeting Thursday ordering Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) to face a show-cause hearing over what the regulators consider the utility's lack of compliance in the state and federal investigations of the Sept. 9 natural gas transmission pipeline rupture in San Bruno, CA.

An order will be considered to have PG&E show cause why it should not be found in contempt and why penalties should not be imposed for [its] failure to comply with the CPUC's data requests earlier this year. If the measure is adopted, the San Francisco-based combination utility will be ordered to appear at a hearing to argue why it should not be fined and held in contempt by the regulators.

The proposed action stems from an interim report in early January from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the CPUC's subsequent order for PG&E to thoroughly review its system records to determine if pressure testing had been completed on all of its pipelines in heavily populated areas (see Daily GPI, Jan. 5). Concerns were raised as to whether there was sufficient testing to support the maximum allowable operating pressures (MAOP) for the pipelines.

After seeking and getting a delay from Feb. 1 to March 15 for submitting its records review, PG&E filed its latest report with the CPUC last Tuesday. The regulators said the MAOP documents "do not appear responsive to [our] order to comply with the NTSB directives to compare installed pipe to as-built drawings and calculate MAOP based on the weakest section of the pipeline or component."

Based on PG&E's latest submittal, the CPUC said it concluded that the utility is currently operating 8% of its natural gas transmission pipeline system "without documents supporting the purported MAOP." The utility report further raised red flags for the regulators regarding an apparent inconsistency between "strength test pressure reports" and records for 270 miles of high-consequence area (HCA) pipelines.

"PG&E admits that for 270 miles out of 1,018 miles it claims to have complete pressure test records, the reported strength test footage tested does not correspond to the HCA pipeline footage," the CPUC proposed show-cause order said. "Again, the lack of consistency between these data raised additional questions."

The accuracy of PG&E's pipeline records was initially called into question last December in an interim NTSB report that cited utility records that indicated that the ruptured pipe section in the San Bruno explosion was seamless when NTSB discovered that it had a welded seam (see Daily GPI, Dec. 20, 2010).

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