PG&E can't prove San Francisco, Peninsula pipes are safe 

Crews will immediately begin rigorously testing or replacing dozens of miles of pipeline under San Francisco and Peninsula towns because PG&E lacks documentation to prove it is safe.

On Tuesday, the utility company revealed it only has complete testing records for a little more than half the transmission pipeline it was ordered to investigate. It will immediately begin testing or replacing some 258 miles of pipeline it considers high priority “because their records have common characteristics with the records for the ruptured segment” in San Bruno.

The details about PG&E’s pipeline safety records came the same day regulators preliminarily agreed to a gas rate hike, but that increase will not pay for the work the utility is about to embark on. If the rate increase is fully approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, a customer who uses 37 therms per month would experience a 0.7 percent increase in their monthly bill. It is still unknown how the safety work will affect bills.

PG&E was forced to comb through some 1.25 million documents for safety records after a transmission pipeline exploded Sept. 9, killing eight people in the San Francisco suburb.

Though a final cause for that explosion has yet to be formally determined, preliminary reports have proved that the pipeline running through San Bruno had incorrect and incomplete safety records. The pipeline was being operated at a much higher pressure than it would have been had those records been correct.

In response to those revelations, regulators at the CPUC in January mandated that PG&E and other utilities in California determine what other pipeline might also have incomplete or incorrect records, or face steep daily fines. Specifically, PG&E was to look for evidence that its pipeline had ever been pressure tested — a rigorous procedure that California has required on every pipe installed since 1961 and that regulators say is crucial to knowing how much gas pressure a pipe can withstand safely.

In an attempt to comply with this mandate, PG&E rented the Cow Palace auditorium in Daly City and filled it with pallets of old records, which employees and contractors poured through 24 hours a day for weeks. The deadline to file the results of that search was Tuesday, and PG&E filed its report immediately before the close of business.

The report said the utility could find full records for about 90 percent of the pipeline that has been installed since 1970, and partial records for another 3 percent. It has not been able to find any records for the remaining 7 percent.

PG&E had even less success finding full safety records for pipelines older than that. For pipelines installed before 1961, it only had complete records on 12 percent and partial records on another 19 percent. The remaining 69 percent had no records that a pressure test was ever conducted.

Among the pipelines PG&E has promised to immediately test is one that winds under San Francisco’s southwestern neighborhoods, from Visitacion Valley to Potrero Hill. That pipeline also will be tested through Brisbane, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Millbrae, Burlingame, Hillsborough and Redwood City. A connecting pipe that runs through San Carlos along Brittan Avenue will be tested as well.

PG&E said it chose the lines to test “because their records have common characteristics with the records for the ruptured segment.”

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Katie Worth

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