Based on two proposed orders from a regulatory law judge, California regulators are considering yet another fine against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) for shoddy pipeline system management and a broader crackdown on all in-state gas pipeline operators by requiring tougher management and financial audits of their natural gas operations. The latter is mandated by a new state law (SB 705).

SB 705 requires that each gas operator in the state “develop and implement a plan for the safe and reliable operation of its gas pipeline facilities.” Implementing this, Administrative Law Judge Maribeth Bushey is proposing that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) put more accountability into pipeline integrity management programs as outlined by federal regulators, such as the National Transportation Safety Board and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration since the PG&E transmission pipeline rupture in San Bruno in 2010.

Both of the proposals are on the CPUC’s agenda for its meeting Thursday.

Bushey has recommended that the $3 million fine be assessed against PG&E for its action prior to the CPUC’s March 24, 2011 show-cause proceeding, which would be concluded with the payment of the fine to the state’s general fund by the combination utility’s shareholders, something that PG&E already agreed to in a settlement reached late last year (see Daily GPI, Feb. 27).

Under the new law, the CPUC is directed to review and act on gas operators’ safety plans by the end of this year. Bushey in her proposed order for the CPUC to consider suggests the plans be submitted to the state regulators by the end of June. “The [five-member] commission must consider the safety culture of each gas [operator] consistent with the requirements of SB 705,” Bushey said in her proposed order.

This proposal requires both management and financial audits. The management assessments are required “to evaluate the overall management system in place that ensures public and employee safety and that creates the current safety culture at California’s natural gas systems operators.” The financial audits are needed, according to the proposed order, “to ensure that commission-approved revenue requirement [established in rate cases] is being used appropriately” by California’s natural gas system operators.

The proposed order would begin the audits with PG&E, Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. But in the amended proceeding covered in this proposal also included would be various independent storage operators, such as Niska Gas Storage Co. (formerly Wild Goose), Lodi Gas Storage and Gill Ranch Storage, along with Southwest Gas Corp. and Southern California Edison Co. (which provides gas service on Santa Catalina Island 26 miles off the coast near Long Beach, CA).

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