Local officials to question PG&E about San Bruno blast on national stage 

As six San Bruno officials take their places at a hearing table in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, their city — and the nation — will be watching.

In the first day of National Transportation Safety Board hearings probing last year’s deadly San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, local officials will get a chance to question PG&E officials under oath on the company’s management of its pipelines.

“We encourage people to watch and become informed about these issues that I think our community is vitally interested in,” said City Manager Connie Jackson, who will question witnesses on behalf of the city.

The safety board called the three days of fact-finding hearings as part of its investigation into the cause of the Sept. 9 explosion and subsequent fire, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. A January report from the NTSB revealed the pipeline that failed had a weakness along a weld, though a final report on the accident’s cause is likely months away.

Tuesday marks the first time in more than a decade that the board has held hearings on a pipeline accident, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudsen.

Five panels of witnesses — including representatives from PG&E, the California Public Utilities Commission and other pipeline industry authorities — will be questioned by safety board members, technical staff and spokespeople for five organizations — including the city — that were deemed “parties” to the investigation and therefore allowed to participate.

Local lawmakers, victims of the disaster and others around the country will also be watching the hearings, which will be streamed live online.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he is looking forward to the safety board’s release Tuesday of some 4,700 pages of materials — including factual reports and interview transcripts — that federal investigators have collected.

“I think it’ll be very thought-provoking,” Hill said.

Though a final report on the disaster’s cause is likely still months away, Jackson said she hopes to come away with a better understanding of the NTSB’s process and the complex world of pipeline operations.

“We and the NTSB, I know, place a high value on a full and accurate evaluation and a correct conclusion, and that takes time,” Jackson said, “so we appreciate the patience our community has demonstrated.”

Live video of the NTSB’s San Bruno hearings will be streamed online here.


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Shaun Bishop

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