There was more distrust stemming from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) gas transmission pipeline catastrophe three weeks after the tragic event, and it centered in San Jose, CA, the population and communications center of the peninsula region stretching from the Silicon Valley to the southern end of San Francisco.
The San Jose Mercury-News on Friday carried a report from academic experts who said a failed weld may have been the main cause for the 30-inch diameter steel pipeline’s failure, and the newspaper further quoted local government officials as complaining that PG&E was holding back information it had promised on the network of four high-pressure transmission pipelines that run through the peninsula region.
Farther north in the suburb of San Carlos, the mayor and other city officials met twice with the San Francisco-based combination utility but told the newspaper there were still many unanswered questions. Mayor Randy Royce focused on the 18th-ranked pipeline segment on PG&E’s previously released “Top-100” list of transmission pipelines possibly needing repair. It runs through part of San Carlos and has sensors that measure pressures and other key conditions.
Royce told the Mercury-News he doesn’t know why local fire officials can’t have the information gathered from the sensors at the same time the utility gets it. He said he asked PG&E what it does with the data, but the utility executives “didn’t answer the question.”
In response, a PG&E spokesperson said the utility met recently with San Jose officials in a “productive meeting,” and the utility plans to meet with them again the week of Oct. 4. “We plan to continue meeting with every local government that wants information on our pipelines and their safety procedures,” he said, noting that the utility is not refusing to provide any data, including the location of valves on the pipelines.
Experts from nearby Stanford University asked by the Mercury-News to examine photographs of the pipeline segments being analyzed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the failure may have started along a weld. Separately, the newspaper reported Friday that San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said he was not satisfied with PG&E after the utility allegedly refused to give local fire officials the locations of the shutoff valves on the transmission pipelines running through the area.
Tom Bowman, chairman of Stanford’s mechanical engineering department, was quoted by the newspaper a saying the pipeline in San Bruno “unpeeled and failed catastrophically.” He and his colleagues at Stanford said an NTSB metallurgical analysis will be needed to determine the exact cause, but they suggested that brittle pipes, old welds, corrosion or widening cracks all could have caused the failure.
The PG&E spokesperson told NGI the utility wishes it could be more responsive to this speculation, but with the NTSB investigation ongoing, it cannot comment on possible causes.
Separately, it was also reported that a mile-long link of one PG&E transmission pipeline runs through the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, and PG&E recently met with campus officials to address their questions and concerns.
In the Mercury-News report, it was speculated that “PG&E appears to have sent representatives to meetings with local leaders unprepared. Other times, PG&E simply refused to release information. The location of shut-off valves is one such piece of information it declined to give to Stanford as well as San Jose.” A PG&E spokesperson disagreed and said such information is being provided to local officials.
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