Questions are mounting regarding Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s (PG&E) overall maintenance and repair of its natural gas transmission pipeline system going into the second week of investigation following the pipeline blast that killed at least four people, leveled or badly damaged up to 50 homes and devastated a wider area of more than 300 homes that were evacuated for days following the Sept. 9 tragedy (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13).

The broadening focus was signified by the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) action late Friday requiring a new level of historic detail from PG&E on its “top 100 list of high-priority pipeline projects,” as well as more historic data on the pipeline that failed in San Bruno, CA — Line 132, a 30-inch diameter high-pressure transmission pipeline, one of three running through San Mateo County 10 miles south of San Francisco.

In a letter to PG&E CEO Christopher Johns, CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon said as part of the state regulatory commission’s safety oversight it needs the top 100 list, by segment from 2007 to the present that the utility itself had identified as needing replacement or upgrades for public safety reasons, and provide the status of replacement or upgrade work (completed, in construction or not started). There were five other categories of data requested, one including the exact milepost location on Line 132 where the explosion and initial fire started Sept. 9.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement applauding the request for more detailed information from PG&E, saying CPUC President Michael Peevey had committed to work with PG&E to make the requested information available to the state on Monday.

“After touring the explosion site and speaking with the local community and press, it was clear to me that there were many unanswered questions about what happened,” said Schwarzenegger, adding that citizens “deserve to know what caused the explosion so we can learn form it and make sure it never happens again.”

Saying he is committed to getting those answers, Schwarzenegger said he met with CPUC officials Thursday leading up to the request of PG&E that was issued in Clanon’s letter, seeking “specific information about conditions of pipes throughout the state, and information about the pipe that exploded.

“This is about getting to the bottom of what happened, and providing important information to our state’s first responders, elected officials and especially any homeowners who may be at risk. No information should be held back,” Schwarzenegger said.

Based on Clanon’s letter, state regulators want to get into the nitty-gritty of the utility’s maintenance, repair and replacement of its 5,700 miles of transmission pipeline, requesting maps, detailed criteria used to categorize the priority of work and an outline and explanation for how long it will take the utility to provide the locations of all of the transmission system’s manual shutoff valves, and an estimate of the capital and operations/maintenance costs for replacing those valves with automatic shutoff devices.

Clanon’s letter seeks detail on any segments of Line 132 that currently or in the past were listed on the high-priority projects listing. The regulatory commission wants to know what high-priority work was completed, deferred or is pending, and the accompanying risk analysis workpapers applicable.

This was the second letter from Clanon to Johns in a five-day period, and in between those two letters the administrative law judge (ALJ) in PG&E’s ongoing general rate case, in which there is a proposed settlement on the utility’s transmission/storage operations, issued an order asking the parties to comment on whether the agreement needs to be reexamined in light of the San Bruno incident. Reply comments are due Sept. 30.

A question raised by ALJ John Wong and the assigned CPUC member Timothy Alan Simon is “whether operations and maintenance [O&M] work activities and capital expenditures for transmission line projects have been adequately prioritized in terms of work activities and projects involving transmission pipelines in high consequence areas and with high-risk assessments.” They also questioned whether the proposed settlement allowed for ensuring that identified pipeline safety-related O&M work will be completed in the 2011-14 period.

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