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PG&E Backs Two State Pipeline Safety Bills

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) is backing two bills dealing with natural gas pipeline safety that passed the state Senate last week and are headed to committees in the lower house Assembly. No hearings have been set yet, and a utility official in Sacramento told NGI Monday that none are expected soon.

The proposed new laws should strengthen the California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) authority over intrastate gas pipelines in accordance with federal regulations. Specifically one bill (SB 44) would have the CPUC hold a statewide proceeding to establish upgraded emergency response standards for pipeline operators, and the other legislative proposal (SB 216) would require pipeline operators to install automatic shutoff or remote controlled sectionalized block valves in high consequence areas (HCA) and areas of active earthquake faults.

Currently only some of the state's more than 10,000 miles of intrastate gas transmission pipelines have the auto/remote valve capability. 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 Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Pipeline Administration to "adopt and enforce compatible safety standards."

Since its transmission pipeline rupture last September in San Bruno, PG&E has been addressing both issues and has made filings with the CPUC regarding those plans.

"SB 44 requires the CPUC to establish compatible emergency response standards that ensure that pipeline facilities have emergency response plans that prepare them for any disaster that may occur," the PG&E Sacramento official said. "We have already begun that process by reaching out to local first responders throughout our service territory to share detailed information on our gas pipeline infrastructure within their local jurisdictions."

While no hearings have been set in the Assembly following the Senate's unanimous passage of both bills, there is a July 8 deadline within the state legislative process for policy committees to set hearings on bills going from one house to another.

"We have a formal support position on SB 44 and generally support SB 216, but we do not have a formal position," the PG&E official said. "We have supported greater deployment of auto/remote valves in regulatory proceedings and our own pending Pipeline 2020 program."

PG&E told the CPUC last October that it would be proposing a number of auto/remote valve installations through its proposed Pipeline 2020 effort, which now is being articulated in a formal filing that the utility will be making as part of the state regulatory commission's ongoing post-San Bruno pipeline proceedings (see Daily GPI, March 9).

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