In a reprise of record keeping errors that surrounded its San Bruno natural gas pipeline failure three years ago, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) found itself once again under fire Thursday for mislabeling high-pressure pipeline segments on the same set of pipes traversing the peninsula south of San Francisco. State regulators immediately set a hearing for Friday in which PG&E again will be on the hot seat.
The San Francisco-based combination utility is being criticized for another instance in which its workers identified and reported to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) mistakes in the labeling of pipeline segments on Lines 147 and 101 running north-south along the peninsula where the San Bruno explosion happened three years ago (see Daily GPI, Sept. 14, 2010).
There was never any safety problem involved, a PG&E spokesperson told NGI Thursday, following critical news media reports of the reaction of San Bruno and state elected officials to the latest revelations involving PG&E’s pipeline record keeping.
The flap comes at a time when PG&E is facing the prospect of multi-billion-dollar penalties for its admitted operating failures leading up to the pipeline rupture and explosion. The company is facing possible dire financial impacts from penalties now being weighed by a CPUC administrative law judge (see Daily GPI, Aug. 23; June 17; May 29).
In a filing to the CPUC last Friday, PG&E’s Kirk Johnson, vice president for gas transmission maintenance and construction, said the utility has lowered the maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) on both the 30-inch diameter pipelines to 330 psig from their current 365 psig.
The latest discrepancy again involves PG&E’s records showing pipeline segments as “seamless,” when in fact they included long seams with welds that may be vulnerable. The error in pipe identity was discovered by PG&E workers during a routine leak repair of a segment of Line 147 in San Carlos, CA, a suburb near San Bruno. PG&E has committed to repair or replace the segments if necessary, although at least one of the segments passed hydrostatic testing in late 2011.
“As we work to build a safety culture within PG&E, these are the types of problems we want to find so we can move forward and take action to fix them,” the utility spokesperson said. “That is exactly what happened here.”
Meanwhile, the CPUC has added to the controversy by balking at the utility’s initial notification of the record keeping problem in early July, demanding a more detailed accounting, and calling for the hearing Friday to look at both the regulatory process and substance of PG&E’s continuing glitches in its pipeline records.
In Johnson’s testimony to the CPUC, PG&E divulged that the subsequent investigation within the utility turned up three segments on Line 147 that were inaccurately described in company documents.
“The MAOP validation records for Line 147 were among the earliest we developed,” Johnson said. “The issues we identified in our Line 147 documentation revealed gaps in the early stages of our MAOP validation process and will be more fully discussed by our experts at [Friday’s CPUC] hearing.”
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