California regulators Thursday began to consider whether Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) violated state or federal rules regarding pipeline classification in the wake of the San Bruno transmission pipeline rupture and explosion last year. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) opened the case at its regular business meeting in San Francisco.

The CPUC said an administrative law judge (ALJ) will be assigned to the case. Based on the record that will be developed, the ALJ will prepare a recommendation for consideration by the CPUC’s five commissioners, which could include statutory fines and penalties against PG&E of up to $20,000 per day for a continuing violation of law.

This case is part of multiple CPUC proceedings that have been under way since the Sept. 9, 2010 San Bruno explosion.

PG&E operates about 6,438 miles of high-pressure gas transmission pipeline, which includes 1,060 miles of pipelines in highly populated areas, known as “high-consequence areas.”

“The CPUC will review and determine whether PG&E has failed to classify its pipelines correctly and whether PG&E failed to comply with federal standards requiring that it regularly study, patrol and survey these locations for increased population density,” a CPUC spokesperson said.

As part of the CPUC’s examination and orders pertaining to PG&E’s natural gas safety practices following the San Bruno explosion, PG&E submitted a “Class Location Study Report” to the commission. The study provided the results of PG&E’s systemwide verification of class location designations for transmission pipe and stated that the combination utility’s class location review indicated that some segments of pipe had, or may have, a maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) higher than appropriate for PG&E’s current class location (see Daily GPI, Nov. 2).

PG&E subsequently lowered pressure on these lines following submission of its report last June. An independent review panel’s examination of the San Bruno disaster was critical of the utility’s gas safety and maintenance management, and the CPUC’s oversight of those programs.

The panel concluded that the pipeline explosion was “a consequence of multiple weaknesses in PG&E’s management and oversight of the safety of its gas transmission system,” along with the finding that the CPUC “did not have the resources to monitor PG&E’s performance in pipeline integrity management adequately or the organizational focus that would have elevated concerns about PG&E’s performance in a meaningful way.”

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