Stanford University hunts for answers on PG&E pipeline 

A pair of massive natural-gas pipelines snake through the Palo Alto hills on Page Mill Road, then hug Junipero Serra Boulevard as it cuts through the Stanford University campus past the front and back yards of faculty housing and through a golf course. The pipelines then take a left onto Sand Hill Road, where they carry their volatile contents past the world’s longest linear accelerator.

Both pipelines continue north, one eventually cutting through the neighborhoods of San Bruno. That’s where, on a warm September evening, it exploded into a geyser of terror, killing eight people and destroying dozens of homes.

That is an outcome that Stanford officials say is not acceptable on their property, and they have demanded PG&E, the company that owns the pipelines, give them a detailed account of the pipelines and their maintenance and inspection history, as well as assurances that the pipelines are being operated at safe pressures.

Because PG&E is a private company and Stanford is a private landowner, the utility company is not obligated to share this information with the university, PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said. However, he said the company is working to answer every question Stanford has asked. He noted Stanford isn’t the only private landowner asking detailed questions about specific lines, but declined to identify others.

Though a final cause hasn’t been nailed down for the San Bruno explosion, federal officials have determined the pipeline was a seamed pipeline, while PG&E records indicated it was a seamless pipeline. Further, the seam was poorly welded, was operated at pressures far too high for a seamed pipeline, and had not been inspected in a way that could have spotted that risk.

Last month, Stanford Associate Vice Provost Lawrence Gibbs sent an e-mail to about 800 residential leaseholders about the university’s inquiries into the state of the pipelines along Junipero Serra. He noted the recent reports about defects in the pipe welds and PG&E’s seemingly poor records about the line.

Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said university officials first worried about the lines after the San Bruno explosion, but their concerns were heightened several weeks later when the stretch of pipeline through their campus was noted on PG&E’s list of pipelines most in need of maintenance.

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