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CA Tightens Pipeline Safety Laws

Friday, October 12, 2012

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One year plus two pipeline explosions equals three new California laws aimed at ramping up natural-gas pipeline safety.

The bills, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 23, give state regulators new power to ensure that gas utilities follow safe practices.

 Explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline that leveled a neighborhood in San Bruno, CA

 San Bruno Fire Department

The comprehensive new regulations follow the catastrophic 2010 explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline that leveled a neighborhood in San Bruno, CA.

The bills were spearheaded by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who has made increased regulations on utilities his priority since a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) pipeline exploded in his San Bruno district in September 2010.

Strengthening Oversight

The San Bruno blast claimed eight lives, injured dozens of people, flattened 38 homes, and damaged an additional 70.

One day after the National Transportation Safety Board published its report on the the San Bruno accident, and only days before the one-year anniversary of the blast, a PG&E plastic pipeline exploded in Cupertino, CA, damaging a condominium.

 Assemblyman Jerry Hill hosted an Oct. 2011 press conference in Cupertino with Assemblyman Paul Fong to announce legislation to improve pipeline safety.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill hosted an October 2011 press conference with Assemblyman Paul Fong to announce legislation to improve pipeline safety.

Since the accidents, PG&E has been dogged by revelations of shoddy record-keeping, testing lapses, and a variety of other problems.

Hill told The Associated Press that the new laws would strengthen pipeline oversight to prevent similar tragedies.

A Breakdown of the Bills

The San Bruno and Cupertino explosions have focused new attention, statewide and nationwide, on gas pipeline safety. Similar efforts to strengthen pipeline safety are going forward at the federal level.

Hill introduced his three bills earlier this year as part of his multi-year effort to improve pipeline safety.

Here is a breakdown of the new laws:

• AB-578 requires the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to adopt gas pipeline safety recommendations made by the NTSB.

The NTSB’s accident report on San Bruno blamed PG&E for a series of mistakes that led to the blast, including poor pipeline welds that went undetected because of lack of inspections and inadequate monitoring by CPUC.

“Historically, those recommendations have just been ignored by the CPUC and our utilities,” Hill told Businessweek in an interview.

• AB-861 prohibits a public utility from either cutting spending on operations and maintenance or increasing rates to recover expenses that were used to pay executive bonuses.

On his website, Hill said PG&E’s former CEO, Peter Darbee, “walked away after the San Bruno explosion with a $35M severance package.”

• AB-1546 requires the CPUC to adopt performance metrics for pipeline safety and evaluate the state’s gas utilities against those metrics. The commission will be able to levy penalties on the utility for poor performance.

“This puts us ahead of many other states in pipeline safety in requiring the commission to regulate utilities more strictly,” Hill said. “This could save lives in the future.”


Tagged categories: Explosions; Facility Managers; Health and safety; Inspection; Laws and litigation; Pipelines

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