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PG&E Disputed Pipe Lateral Gets Regulator Approval

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s (PG&E) natural gas system received some positive feedback from federal and state regulators Monday, including the approval to boost the operating pressure on a controversial 3.8-mile transmission pipeline lateral on the San Francisco Peninsula south of the city.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) notified the combination utility to verify that PG&E has completed two more of about a dozen recommendations made two years ago by NTSB in its final report (see Daily GPI,Aug. 31, 2011) on the San Bruno, CA, transmission pipeline rupture and explosion in September 2010.

NTSB confirmed that PG&E completed recommendations for upgrading its pipeline integrity management program (IMP) and completed a "threat assessment review" of the transmission pipeline system using revised methodology embedded in its new IMP.

"The latter is what PG&E uses in the assessment and identification of threats to assess and rank the risks associated with gas pipes located throughout the transmission system," said a San Francisco-based utility spokesperson, adding that the San Francisco-based utility has now fulfilled nine of the 12 NTSB recommendations (see Daily GPI,March 27).

With the remaining three recommendations, NTSB has determined that PG&E's progress is "acceptable."

On the state level, the utility also received positive feedback.

Previously, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) issued an $8.1 million citation for alleged shoddy contractor work in taking radiographic pictures of pipeline welds and a proposed decision by a CPUC regulator seeking a $17.25 million fine for the utility's handling of a mischaracterization of part of the peninsula pipeline lateral (Line 147) in San Carlos, CA (see Daily GPI,Nov. 6).

But last Thursday, the CPUC's safety division informed PG&E that it now agrees that Line 147 can be safely operated at a maximum operating pressure (MOP) of 330 psig. This action was underscored by a independent, third-party assessment now completed by Kiefner and Associates that concluded the PG&E gas system was found to be operating safely.

"We are pleased that SED agrees with us that Line 147 is safe to operate," said Sumeet Singh, senior director of integrity management for PG&E's gas system. "This is an important step to make sure we're continuing to serve our peninsula customers with safe and reliable gas service."

PG&E's Nick Stavropoulos, the executive vice president running the utility's gas operations, said the latest confirmations are indications that the utility, despite recent public rebukes by various government officials "is making real, measurable progress as we strive to become the safest and most reliable gas operator in the nation."

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