PG&E's flawed records raise flag for others 

The deadly explosion of a PG&E natural-gas pipeline in San Bruno is causing a ripple effect for utility companies across the nation.

The federal team investigating the explosion, which killed eight people, has issued six urgent recommendations for policy changes for state and federal regulators, in addition to PG&E, urging a first step to ensure that the San Bruno incident is not repeated elsewhere.

Last month, federal investigators revealed that the gas line exploded along a seam in the pipe that, according to PG&E records, did not exist. Company documents did not list the pipe as having a seam.

Inaccuracies such as that could lead companies to assume pipelines are stronger than they actually are, and allow higher gas pressure, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

On Monday, the NTSB told PG&E to scour its records to re-evaluate the pressure levels throughout its system. Pipelines with incomplete records might have to be retested, according to the agency.

Concerned that the problem is more widespread than just PG&E pipelines, the NTSB issued urgent recommendations to the California Public Utilities Commission and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to reach out to other utilities. The agencies are to inform companies of the circumstances around the San Bruno accident so they can take action to prevent repeats.

However, according to Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, the error was not simply clerical or assumed after the fact — the drawings themselves said the pipeline had no seam. This shows that PG&E cannot trust its own records and must retest the lines, she said.

“It’s alarming that they don’t know what’s under the ground,” Speier said. “This pipeline, in 50 years, has not been inspected, and it was a ticking time bomb.”

Speier said she will reintroduce legislation this week requiring tighter regulatory control over gas pipelines.

On Monday evening, CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon sent a letter to PG&E to inform the company that it must comply with the federal recommendations by Feb. 1.

PG&E spokesman Denny Boyle said the utility is already in the process of assessing its records and will work to comply with the ­recommendations.

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Katie Worth

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