California regulators on Thursday formally ordered investigations of the Sept. 9 San Bruno transmission pipeline explosion and fire, and they established an independent review panel to be paid for by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), on whose line an explosion killed seven and destroyed or damaged of up to 50 homes (see Daily GPI, Sept. 22).

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) took its action in the wake of PG&E making more information available on its recent history of the highest priority maintenance and repairs on its extensive transmission pipeline system, which is concentrated in the northern two-thirds of the state. The information, however, has not shed anything new about Line 132, or the pipeline segment that failed.

California took the action as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to lead the major investigation into the cause of the pipeline failure. Mark Toney, executive director of consumer group The Utility Reform Network (TURN), said PG&E is clearly the entity responsible for the pipelines’ safety and maintenance, and as such, it “has more than enough money to do this.”

The regulators’ action provides for the independent review panel to be selected by CPUC President Michael Peevey and confirmed by the full five-member commission, and it is to be created in the next two months. It is empowered to gather facts and make recommendations “based on the facts to the CPUC as to whether there is a need for the general improvement of the safety of PG&E’s gas transmission pipeline system” that varies in size from four-inch to 42-inch diameter lines.

All of the CPUC members urged PG&E leadership to use shareholder money to support this effort, and it was reported that the utility was considering doing this. Earlier in the aftermath of the pipeline blast, PG&E created a “Rebuild San Bruno Fund,” making available up to $100 million for the residents (see Daily GPI, Sept. 15).

In an action list that numbered 22 items directed at the utility, the CPUC mandated that PG&E complete “an accelerated leak survey” of all gas transmission pipelines, “giving priority to segments in class 3 and class 4 [residential] locations,” take corrective action as necessary and report the results to the commission by Oct. 12.

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