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NTSB issues 'urgent' recommendations in wake of San Bruno explosion

Federal safety officials probing the San Bruno natural gas blast issued several "urgent" recommendations on Monday aimed at improving gas pipeline safety.

The September blast in the San Francisco suburb killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes. The National Transportation Safety Board, which issued the recommendations, has not determined the cause of the blast.

The three key recommendations to local utilities are:

1) Conduct an intensive records search to identify all the gas transmission lines that had not previously undergone a testing regimen designed to validate a safe operating pressure;

2) Determine the maximum operating pressure based on the weakest section of pipeline;

3) Determine a safe operating pressure by a specified testing regimen.

"The NTSB is concerned that the seam-welded sections may not be as strong as the seamless pipe that was indicated in PG&E’s records," officials said in a statement released Monday.

A final report on the causes of the blast is not expected until later this year.

The explosion, one of the deadliest in recent U.S. history, has cost PG&E nearly $250 million in property damage, personal injury compensation, new inspection work and other legal expenses.

The powerful blast occurred after a major transmission line running under a hillside neighborhood began leaking large volumes of gas. When the gas ignited, it blew a 28-foot section of the pipe out of the ground and set fire to more than 50 homes, 37 of which were completely destroyed.

An NTSB report released in December said no evidence of external corrosion, a leading cause of pipeline failures, was found on ruptured sections of the pipe. It does not indicate if internal corrosion was found. But previous reports indicated there did not appear to be significant deterioration of the pipeline wall thickness.


Regulators order intensified inspections of natural gas lines

NTSB reports sections of exploding pipeline were welded only on outside

-- Shelby Grad    

Comments () | Archives (2)

I wonder of the closing of the barn door was a bit tardy after this tragedy? There are gas supply systems that have been in the ground for over half a century that need to be looked at seriously. PG&E was just listening to its investors when it deferred these inspections. Dividends come be safety, right??

PG&E is not in compliance with 2002 vintage pipeline safety legislation that requires that they quantify operational risks and take actions to mitigate these risks. NTSB's recommendation today simply restates the requirements, by stating what should have been done (and still needs to be done by PG&E). PG&E's short sighted risk management processes are not saving anyone any money (neither investors nor residents of San Bruno).

This, sadly, is not a new story. In fact the 2002 legislation was a direct result of pipeline incidents that occurred in 1999. Those incidents were very expensive - hundreds of millions of dollars of penalties, reactionary inspections (for the company) and even jail time for one vice president.

We will see what will happen here, but I expect that PG&E will be held accountable.


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