San Mateo County lawmakers say NTSB recommendations may have prevented natural gas disasters 

click to enlarge A Cupertino home was damaged in a gas line explosion in August. (AP file photo) - A CUPERTINO HOME WAS DAMAGED IN A GAS LINE EXPLOSION IN AUGUST. (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • A Cupertino home was damaged in a gas line explosion in August. (AP file photo)
  • A Cupertino home was damaged in a gas line explosion in August. (AP file photo)

Two Bay Area lawmakers announced new legislation Thursday that would require state natural gas regulators to take action on safety recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Assemblymen Jerry Hill and Paul Fong discussed the new legislation this morning at the Northwest Square complex in Cupertino.

In August, a natural gas leak from a 2-inch plastic pipe was believed to have caused a fire in one of the complex's 400 units.

Hill said he was sad and frustrated to be at the site of another gas pipeline disaster that could have been prevented if industry regulators -- like the California Public Utilities Commission -- had been required to enact NTSB safety recommendations for the natural gas industry.

In the 1990s, the NTSB recommended that polyethylene pipes be phased out of the natural gas industry because DuPont -- the company that manufactured the pipe -- had indicated the material was prone to age prematurely and crack.

"In 1998, the NTSB made a recommendation to the gas industry that this type of pipe throughout the country should be monitored, checked and replaced," Hill said.

The CPUC had a "hands-off" approach to regulating industry providers such as PG&E, and the plastic pipe was not replaced, Hill said.

"They didn't do any of that," he said.

Inspectors found as many as seven leaks in plastic pipelines at the Northwest Square complex after the Aug. 31 fire, according to PG&E.

Hill compared the incident in Cupertino to the Sept. 9, 2010, pipeline explosion in San Bruno, where eight people were killed and dozens of homes in the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood were damaged or destroyed.

"The main similarity between them is that there had been recommendations from the NTSB that could have prevented the tragedy," Hill said.

In 1982, a pipeline explosion in San Francisco prompted the federal agency to make recommendations regarding record keeping and shutoff valves on lines in highly populated areas, Hill said.

If those recommendations had been acted upon by the CPUC, the explosion in San Bruno might have been prevented, Hill said.

The new legislation, co-authored by Hill and Fong, will require the CPUC to take action on any future recommendations made by the NTSB, Hill said.

The bill will likely be introduced in January when the Assembly's 2012 legislative session begins, Hill said.

A CPUC spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

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