The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Tuesday begins a series of three public hearings to gather testimony on pipeline safety. It is a response to the apparent lack of local knowledge about the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) pipeline that ruptured last September in a residential neighborhood in suburban San Bruno, CA, south of San Francisco.

The first of the sessions will be held in San Bruno at a senior citizens center, seeking public input about the job state regulators are doing in overseeing the operation of the utility transmission and distribution pipeline network. Similar sessions are scheduled for Los Angeles (May 12) and Santa Rosa, CA, north of San Francisco (May 16).

Noting that the San Bruno pipeline blast was not something he could have imagined, San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag stunned a National Transportation Safety Board data-gathering hearing in early March when he conceded that he and other city officials were generally unaware of the gas line before the Sept. 9 incident (see Daily GPI, March 4).

Haag said his department “didn’t have the information…” or “maps of pipelines going through” San Bruno. “I just didn’t know about it.” Haag said he generally knew there were two gas pipelines running roughly parallel up the peninsula south of San Francisco, following two north-south highways into the city (Highways 101 and 280). PG&E maintains that before and after the incident it has briefed fire and other city officials in the San Mateo County area.

The CPUC said it hopes that the public comment sessions will help it “reach an informed decision” regarding future changes in pipeline safety regulations and oversight. “In order to set new rules for the safe and reliable operation of gas pipelines in California, the CPUC will obtain this public input, and collect and analyze the data and conclusions from the investigations and reports of the San Bruno rupture,” a regulatory commission spokesperson said.

In that regard, the CPUC welcomed on Monday the announcement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on a federal initiative regarding stepped up pipeline safety (see Daily GPI, April 5). “[We] are in the process of setting new rules for safe and reliable operation of gas pipelines in California, and we will coordinate with the transportation department on our programs to ensure that a national framework is achieved,” the CPUC spokesperson said.

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