For safety's sake - Page 2

Gaps in PG&E pipeline info could carry implications for land-use decisions


But DBI spokesperson Bill Strawn said, "Those questions you were asking really don't fall into the Department of Building Inspection's jurisdiction."

Strawn added that the issue of underground infrastructure is not really taken into account when building permits are issued. "We don't go to the [Public Utilities Commission] or [Department of Public Works] or PG&E" for that kind of information, Strawn said. "That would be the responsibility of the property owner, and the plans they submit to us don't include that kind of utility information."

PG&E is scrambling to meet a March 15 deadline imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission to turn over records proving its lines are intact. Until it can prove the integrity of its system either on paper or through costly, high-pressure water testing, the condition of some lines is unknown. PG&E did not return calls for comment.

In San Francisco, a densely populated urban hub on an earthquake-prone peninsula where major development projects are being permitted all the time, these issues are particularly pressing. Charley Marsteller, former chair of San Francisco Common Cause, certainly thinks so.

Last December, Marsteller penned a letter to a well-respected geotechnical engineer, raising a question about pipeline safety in light of California Pacific Medical Center's plans to construct a massive hospital at its Cathedral Hill site on Franklin Street. According to a map of underground gas lines published by the Guardian (See "PG&E's Secret Pipeline Map," 9/21/10) using several sources of data, a PG&E gas main appears to run beneath Franklin.

Marsteller was worried about whether excavation for CPMC — or other projects requiring excavation, or even simple contractor digging — could cause vibrations that could affect that pipe.

"As CPMC digs its 100-foot hole, and due to the massive construction vibrations, is there not a risk that the PG&E gas pipeline is at risk of rupture?" he wanted to know.

The engineer, who preferred not to have his name published, responded in an informal letter that "it is indeed possible that soil movement generated by excavation and/or foundation construction could rupture a deteriorated gas main." He added that while he wasn't familiar with the details of CPMC's or other excavation projects on Franklin Street, he did know that the area in question "consists of relatively weak soil" underlain at depth by a geologic feature called the Franciscan Formation, made of sandstone and fine-grained, sedimentary rock.

Yet no one seems to be giving this question any kind of professional attention or study. Eerily, Marsteller seems to be the only person in San Francisco who's asking what happens if a major excavation project is permitted nearby a corroded pipeline — and he says he hasn't received much of a response from the "rather blistering memos" he's fired off to planning commissioners and members of the Board of Supervisors to ask about it. "I'm very concerned that we're not suspending contractor digging proximate to a pipeline," Marsteller said, until PG&E can offer proof that the lines nearby excavation projects are in good shape. Whether these issues will ever be considered as part of the local planning process, Marsteller predicted: "The answer is, no one ever thinks about this."

Excavation damage accounts for nearly one-quarter of pipeline "incidents" nationwide, according to the federal Office of Pipeline Safety report. Yet safeguards are in place to prevent these things from happening.


Seems that all of this may lead to a PG&E bankruptcy.

Posted by Charley_sf on Mar. 13, 2011 @ 9:21 am

Government will add surcharges to fix the messes so that ratepayers get to subsidize PG&E profits, there will not be another PG&E bankruptcy.


Posted by marcos on Mar. 13, 2011 @ 9:48 am

It is the responsibility, under Federal pipeline safety law, that the operator (PG&E in this case) is responsible for assessing and mitigating risks to its pipeline. These risks can be from outside construction, they can be from the original construction method (as in San Bruno case) or they can be from inappropriate operation (also in the San Bruno case). It is not the case that nobody is responsible, PG&E is responsible - but it may be the case that PG&E is not fulfilling its responsibility.

Further, pipes definitely do 'care' about the proximity of third party construction. The extent of influence depends on the material and age, the proximity of construction and its depth. IN the case of SF, they have the best approach in the country for avoiding third party damage, as a result of adjacent street construction (long term notice of construction - up to 5 years- allows stakeholder to react to, protect and mitigate risks).

Finally the matter of data is very important. First the utility operates two major systems 1-Transmission (~2000 miles) and 2-Distribution (50-60,000 miles). All of the fact finding so far has been about the transmission system and the claim is that they have 70% of the data about this system. The requirement is that they have asset data, environment data and data about current and potential risks. The reality is that they have some data on 70% of their transmission system, but the fact that it is not complete means that they can not accurately assess the risks. This means that they do not have a COMPLETE data set on any sections of their Transmission network. As an example, the San Bruno line was poorly constructed but it was an overpressure event from inappropriate operation that caused the explosion. By law they should have had a method (equipment, training) to mitigate the impact of an over pressure event on the transmission network and they should have evaluated how that network would have reacted to an overpressure event. This means they should have known the state of welds in the system.

Now, the majority of he assets they operate are distribution pipelines located in almost any street in the area. Typically a gas utility has little or no data on distribution piping and thsi piping can be 150 years old.

Posted by Bob on Mar. 13, 2011 @ 11:33 am

Parkmerced's project and the recently noted new SFSU-Creative Arts Center show pipelines running on BOTH sides of the properties.

Interestingly enough the SF Planning Dept. ignored the issue entirely....

will the SFBOS do the same thing?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

It is no wonder that the Planning Commission has done nothing to foresee this; they passed on the EIR and Parkmerced expansion without blinking an eyelash, despite Kathrin Moore's substantive and detailed objections to the competence of both issues voted on. The four who voted for this mess are pro-development appointees of a pro-development mayor, and are hell-bent on Parkmerced's destruction to create a legacy of new housing units, no matter where they have to cram them or how much damage they do to thousands of people's lives, using buzz words like "urban infill" (as Moore pointed out at the recent hearing, urban infill does not comprise destroying one existing functional unit to build two or three more in its place, nor does it allow for destroying open space integrated into existing housing by adding more units there.) Not to speak of the fact that two of the pro-expansion Supervisors have taken significant donation of cash from the developers. Shame on them for this low political corruption!

Posted by Guest Michael on Mar. 13, 2011 @ 10:44 pm

Two days after the San Bruno event, Mr. Peter Darbee, President and CEO of PG&E was sent the following information:

Pipeline Environmental Monitoring System (PEMS)

Objective of PEMS:

1. PEMS is a product which, when permanently installed underground in close proximity to a pipeline, will constantly monitor the immediate underground environment surrounding the pipeline, the pipeline itself and its protection systems, including corrosion control systems, pressure monitoring and local ground disturbances such as construction digging. PEMS is primarily for use on direct and indirect High Consequence Area segments (HCA’s) of a pipeline as determined by Federal Regulation, such as the San Bruno environment. The actual number of defined HCA’s is not known. Current estimates are in the tens of thousands and the number is growing as urbanization continues above and around pipelines already in the ground.

2. The proposed system is already patented and uses well known and understood engineering principles, to provide real time, or close to real time (pipeline operator choice) control room warnings and/or alarms to changes in the immediate pipeline environment, up to and including actual pipeline leaks and/or ruptures. The warnings and alarms would carry GPS position information locating the event for emergency first responders.

3. PEMS will provide a significant improvement in the operating safety of pipelines carrying hazardous fluids. Beneficiaries: Public Safety; private and commercial property; sensitive natural environments; pipeline operators through reduced use of Company resources and a potentially substantial improvement in their relationship(s) with the Public and the Federal and State Regulating Organizations (e.g. Department of Transportation/PHMSA and State PUC’s).

4. PEMS will increase significantly the ‘comfort factor’ associated with operating a pipeline using constant real time monitoring (addressing past, current and future public concern regarding hazardous pipeline operations in urban environments).

PG&E has not replied to this submission of a completely relevant proposal.

Just how interested is PG&E in protecting the public, some of which are their very own customers?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 14, 2011 @ 8:54 am