PG&E's secret pipeline map

The utility won't release its pipeline locations — even to the Fire Department — but we managed find the info



It's been nearly two weeks since the pipeline in San Bruno exploded and killed four people, injuring many more and destroying 37 homes. And it's left a lot of people in San Francisco wondering: could it happen here?

Of course it could. PG&E has more than 200 miles of major gas pipelines under the city streets that are scheduled to be replaced — and that means they're reaching the end of their useful life. Just like the pipe that blew up in San Bruno.

Are any running under your home or business? PG&E isn't going to tell you.

That's bad. "The public has a right to this information," City Attorney Dennis Herrera told us. And Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has introduced a resolution calling on PG&E to make the locations of its pipelines, electric lines, and other potentially parts of the company's infrastructure public.

But here's what worse: even the city's public safety departments — the ones that would have to respond to a catastrophic event involving a gas main break — don't know where those lines are.

"I'm still looking for that map myself," said Lt. Mindy Talmadge, a spokesperson for the Fire Department.

The city's Public Utilities Commission, which, among other things, digs its own trenches to install and repair water pipes, doesn't have the PG&E map. Neither does the the California PUC, which regulates PG&E.

It might also make sense for the City Planning Department to have the map; after all, zoning an area for the future development of dense housing that sits on top of an explosive gas main might be an issue. "People need to start holding PG&E accountable," Planning Commission member Christina Olague told us. "Why shouldn't PG&E release [the map] given the recent tragedy?"

PG&E insists that the exact location of the gas mains should remain secret because someone might want to use the information for a terrorist attack. But if the San Francisco Fire Department and Department of Emergency Services can't get the map of the pipelines, something is very wrong. Even Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who has been allied with PG&E against public power issues, agreed that "the public safety agencies should certainly have that information."

The Mirkarimi resolution urges PG&E "to cooperate with the city's request for infrastructure information." Mayor Gavin Newsom has already appointed the fire chief and city administrator to conduct a utility infrastructure safety review that would evaluate the location, age, and maintenance history of every pipeline underneath city streets.

Not every state allows utilities to keep this information secret. In both Washington and Texas, maps of underground pipelines are easily accessible, said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Bellingham, Washington-based nonprofit Pipeline Safety Trust. Texas even has an online system, he said.

But in California, PG&E keeps even essential safety agencies in the dark. If a fire came near where a PG&E pipeline was buried — or if an earthquake fractured some of the lines and gas started to leak — Talmadge said the San Francisco Fire Department wouldn't be able to do anything about the explosive gas except call PG&E. Only the private utility can shut off the gas, which is under high pressure in the main lines.

"We radio to our dispatch center and request PG&E to respond ... They would contact PG&E and have them respond," she explained.

The department doesn't prepare specifically for that sort of event. "We do not have a specific gas leak training ... it would be more of a hazardous material training," Talmadge said.


It's not PG&E's policy, it's federal law.

All City emergency services have to do is make a request, as described on this webpage, and they'll be granted access to the data. Perhaps instead of carping to the press, they could spend 5 seconds on Google?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 21, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

The SFFD says they don't have the maps to locations in case of emergency, and you link to a "call before you dig' national website? Read the article and get the facts before you comment.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 23, 2010 @ 10:19 pm

Here's the policy on access:

All it takes is an email from the city government or the fire department.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 21, 2010 @ 11:01 pm

After checking the map that this information was supposedly based on, the transmission line on the south side of Bernal Heights in under Folsom Street not Banks Street!

If you live around here, you know how narrow Banks Street is -- there's no room for a 30-in pipeline. Folsom is one of the wider streets in the area ... not that it's any better having it on Folsom instead of Banks, but, c'mon SFBG, it's not that hard to figure this out based on the accessible map at

What it is. Just so you know.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 22, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

Umm hello, a 30" pipeline is 2 feet, 6 inches in diameter. How exactly is there no room in a two way street to fit this underground? SFBD locates the pipeline EXACTLY where the map you linked to says it is.
What was your point again?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 23, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

I grew up on banks. Maybe I am your neighbor. I think that there is a big pipe under the street that PG&E put in. That is why half of the street is paved and the other half is from 1929. I could be wrong, but I do remember them tearing up the street a number of years back.

Posted by Nate Miller on Sep. 22, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

The tired and silly PGE excuse, "might be used for a terrorist attack" can apply to city hall - it's a transparent excuse.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 26, 2010 @ 9:54 am

nice how the pipes go right under General Hospital

Posted by Guest on Sep. 28, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

Interesting note is that both the SFSU-CSU "Masterplan" and Parkmerced "Vision" projects have IGNORED entirely this issue with the increased size and densities proposed.

This is reckless endangerment unless adequate steps are taken to rectify the risk.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2011 @ 8:23 am

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