With close cooperation with its major unions, a lot of new management expertise and a commitment throughout its company workforce, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s (PG&E) natural gas system has risen from the trauma of the San Bruno pipeline rupture and explosion two and a half years ago, Nick Stavropoulos, PG&E Corp. executive vice president of gas operations, told an energy conference in Houston Tuesday.
To underscore the point, PG&E cited acknowledgement from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that the utility has fulfilled seven of a dozen recommendations laid out after the federal agency’s investigation and assessment of the September 2010 incident that killed eight people and devastated a residential neighborhood about 10 miles south of San Francisco.
While admitting that the company still has a lot of work to do, Stavropoulos said PG&E is “making real progress that can be seen and felt by our customers, employees and regulators.”
Stavropoulos said the three most recent NTSB acknowledged successes included validation of the maximum allowable operating pressure on critical parts of the transmission pipeline system; improved assurances for validating that pipeline safety work generally gets done; and establishing what the NTSB defined as “traceable, verifiable and complete records” on all of its transmission pipeline segments.
In terms of responding to natural gas incidents on its system of 5,800 miles of transmission and 42,000 miles of distribution pipelines, PG&E is now among the top gas operators in the nation with an average response time this month of 19 minutes, Stavropoulos said.
The company had a goal last year of being in the top quartile among gas operators, which would have required the San Francisco-based utility to respond within 30 minutes 75% of the time, Stavropoulos told a luncheon audience at the 2013 Pipeline Opportunities Conference. Instead, it achieved the 30 minutes or less level 86% of the time and averaged 22-minute response times in August last year, he said.
Other NTSB recommendations for which PG&E has satisfied the federal requirements involve a “public awareness plan” for keeping local officials and the public informed about gas operations; response processes for major emergencies; 911 notification by PG&E gas control center operations; and a timely testing process for all employees involved in major pipeline incidents.
While citing the gas industry overall as having a “great safety record,” Stavropoulos urged gas industry leaders to come together and work to “do even better.” He said “every element of the industry has come together” since San Bruno and it should do that on an ongoing basis.
He said that when he joined PG&E in 2011, one of the first things he did was meet with its major union (the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and another local, and as a result he called the company’s two unions “phenomenal partners” is getting the work done (and workers trained) for the post-San Bruno effort.
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