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PG&E Seeks Extension in State Pipeline Investigation

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) Tuesday asked California regulators for more time to produce full documentation on welds and flaws uncovered during the past 55 years on 1,805 miles of its natural gas transmission pipeline system. A regulatory commission judge is scheduled to hold a prehearing conference Monday on the utility's latest request for more time.

PG&E has struggled all year with deadlines and requests for information as part of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) investigation following the rupture of one of the utility's transmission pipelines in San Bruno, CA, last year.

"[We] share the commission's important goal of further enhancing the safety of our system, and natural gas systems throughout the state," said a PG&E spokesperson, noting that it is providing voluminous amounts of information and documents to the CPUC's Division of Safety and Consumer Protection. "We intend to provide as much information as possible by the June 20 deadline, and we are asking for some more time to provide additional documents."

PG&E has been under increased pressure since earlier in the year when the CPUC held a show-cause hearing in response to what it considered the utility's lack of compliance with ongoing state and federal investigations of the Sept. 9 pipeline rupture (see Daily GPI, March 25).

Since its March 17 request for additional time, PG&E's lawyers told state regulators in a filing last Tuesday that it "seriously underestimated the magnitude of the task," particularly in light of its field testing of various pipeline segments to verify those segment's current maximum allowable operating pressures (MAOP).

In the spotlight is the utility's need to produce "all" documents pertaining to "all weld defects or failures" in the nearly 2,000 miles of transmission pipelines that pass through heavily populated areas categorized as Class 3 and 4 and Class 1 and 2 high-consequence area (HCA) pipelines.

PG&E told the CPUC it will produce "a substantial quantity of documents" for HCA pipelines and a "smaller volume" of data on the non-HCA lines on June 20. One of the problems is that the utility does not maintain a single type of record that specifically pertains to gas pipe weld failures or defects before and after the use of those pipes. Instead, it maintains a combination of numerous documents related to inspections, testing, repairs and other situations.

Besides the information that PG&E has generated during the past 55 years, it also must review mill inspection and test report documents from the manufacturers of the pipelines in terms of pre-use records. The post-use records are mostly developed as part of leak repairs and integrity management program inspections.

In asking for more time, but not specifying another date, PG&E told the CPUC it does not want the records search related to weld and defect information to "compete with" the MAOP validation process, which is now ongoing and scheduled to be finished at the end of next year.

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