State

NTSB faults PG&E, regulators in pipeline explosion

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman Residents want bellwether trial for pipeline suit

A federal panel is holding a hearing in Washington D.C. to present its long-awaited findings into last September's San Bruno pipeline explosion that devastated an entire neighborhood. The National Transportation Safety Board says PG&E failed time and time again to take steps that could have prevented the deadly disaster.

"Today you're going to hear about a company that exploited weaknesses in a lax safety system of oversight and a government putting blind trust in government operators to the detriment of public safety," said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.

With Peninsula Congresswoman Jackie Speier and San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane and other city officials in the audience, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman put PG&E and the state Public Utilities Commission in her crosshairs. The investigation began with an inspection of the 28-foot section of pipe that ruptured last September 9, sending 47.6 million cubic feet of natural gas to fuel the flames.

"Typically this is enough gas to serve the entire city of San Bruno for a month and it was released in less than two hours," said NTSB Investigator Ravi Chhatre.

But who made that section of pipe? Who did the failed welding on the inside of that pipe that was put in the ground more than 50 years ago? The investigation couldn't answer those questions.

"It was compounded over the years by a litany of failures - including poor record keeping, inadequate inspection programs and integrity management programs without integrity," said Hersman.

Chairwoman Hersman has implied the pipe was made by, or at least at the request of PG&E, something the utility denies. PG&E released a statement this morning about its efforts to improve safety in its gas transmission lines - saying it is creating a separate operating unit for gas operations; implementing more stringent pipeline operating standards; hiring more than 90 new gas engineers from a nationwide recruiting effort; providing additional training to gas operations employees; implementing safety best practices; upgrading older gas lines and shut off valves and improving coordination with local emergency responders that will help in the future.

But a victim of September's fire needs help now. Bill Magoolaghan is one of 53 San Bruno families suing PG&E. He says his family relives the disaster every day.

"A lot of stress dealing with the issues: dealing with my children who are in therapy; dealing with my wife who is in therapy. She has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder," said Magoolaghan.

"We now have the opportunity, and all of us have obligation, to take every step possible to make sure the lessons of this tragedy are well learned and not repeated," said Hersman.

ABC7's Heather Ishimaru is in Washington right now covering the hearing. You can follow her updates on Twitter and she will have reports tonight on ABC7 News at four, five and six.

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Tags:
pg&e, gas line, explosion, state, terry mcsweeney
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