San Bruno residents will have a chance to tell regulators how California’s gas pipeline rules should be changed to prevent tragedies like the deadly explosion that rocked their town last September.
The California Public Utilities Commission is set to hold a five-hour public hearing Tuesday in San Bruno to get comments on proposed changes to natural-gas pipeline regulations in the aftermath of the Sept. 9 blast, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
The commission unveiled a few draft rules in February, including one that would require PG&E to reduce pressure by 20 percent on any pre-1970 pipeline in populated areas for which it doesn’t have complete records.
Other potential new rules to make the state’s gas pipeline system safer could include automatic shut-off valves, better inspection techniques, replacing aging pipe and record keeping, officials said.
“This’ll just be a time for people to express what they hope to see going forward,” said commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper, who expects high attendance at the meeting. “They can say anything — they’re not happy with the regulations thus far, they want to know what’s in the ground.”
Mayor Jim Ruane said many residents have closely followed the regulatory issues.
“They’re very aware and they’re very informed and it’s a huge issue, not just for San Bruno residents,” Ruane said.
It’s not clear whether the commission will wait for the results from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the cause of the San Bruno disaster before finalizing the new rules. But spokeswoman Susan Carothers said the commission considers it “a top-level emergency issue, and it’s something we’re not lagging on.”
Among the topics expected to be covered by the new rules are requirements for installing remote or automatic shut-off valves, which the San Bruno line lacked, allowing the gas to feed a tower of flames for an hour and a half.
PG&E officials acknowledged at the Washington, D.C., hearings that the valves could have stopped the gas flow an hour sooner.
“While the public may not have a lot to say on some of the details, they do have a lot to say on what it’s going to take to restore trust in PG&E and restore trust in the gas pipeline system,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network.
PG&E will have representatives at Tuesday’s hearing to answer questions, get help with bills or print out maps of pipeline near homes, said spokesman Joe Molica.
“We share the commission’s goal of enhancing the safety of the natural-gas system,” he said.