California regulators unanimously agreed Thursday that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) can resume higher operating pressure in its receipt point of natural gas supplies at the California-Arizona border at Topock. Regulators called for “stricter utility accountability” in pipe pressure tests.

Following an evidentiary hearing late last month, a regulatory judge recommended that the full California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allow the higher pressure to be restored even though there were concerns about the San Francisco-based combination utility’s handling of tests of the receipt pipeline on the Topock Compressor Station (see Daily GPI, Sept. 26).

PG&E will have to separately ask the CPUC to now allow it to also raise the maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) on its transmission pipelines (Line 300A and B) running from Topock up to interconnection points with the PG&E transmission backbone system in Northern California. The CPUC action Thursday didn’t cover Line 300; it only covered raising pressure at the receipt point.

Although there were concerns about whether PG&E fully followed state regulatory guidelines in its pressure testing to validate that the engineering and construction are safe and adequate, the regulators found the utility verified that the high pressures could be safely resumed.

The Topock station receives gas supplies from three pipelines fed into California from El Paso Natural Gas (two lines) and Transwestern Pipeline. Those supplies leave Topock in one of two pipelines (Lines 300A and B). Historically, the receipt point and two transmission pipelines have had an MAOP of 660 psig, and since last February that has been dropped to 528 psig as a precautionary measure following the San Bruno, CA, pipeline rupture and explosion last year.

“This commission needs to be able to act with clear and precise authority in the following months to ensure that PG&E and other utilities are doing everything possible to reduce the risk of future gas explosions,” said Commissioner Timothy Alan Simon. “The decision approved today requires stricter utility accountability when undergoing safety tests.”

A PG&E spokesperson said the utility “will not ask the CPUC to restore pressure on any pipeline until we can fully demonstrate that it is safe to do so”

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