Calif. pipeline was OK'd for replacement

Sept. 15, 2010 at 6:01 PM
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SAN BRUNO, Calif., Sept. 15 (UPI) -- The natural gas pipeline that exploded in California had been approved for replacement three years ago but the work never got done, documents show.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday state regulators had given Pacific Gas and Electric Co. clearance in 2007 to spend $5 million to upgrade the 62-year-old section of pipeline near San Bruno. The work was scheduled to be done last year but the project languished and the newspaper said documents submitted by PG&E to the California Utility Commission reveal the utility sought another $5 million this year to get the job done by 2013.

"There's no excuse for deferring maintenance of potentially compromised pipelines that run under customers' homes, businesses and schools," Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, which released the documents, said.

The Times said neither PG&E nor the commission responded to requests for an immediate comment on the rate increase request documents.

At least four people died and 58 homes were damaged when the pipeline exploded and set off a massive fire last week. Three people remain missing.

Sections of the damaged pipe are en route to Washington for testing, federal investigators said.

Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators were creating a time line of PG&E's response to the deadly incident, the Times reported.

Hart declined to say how long it took the utility to shut off the gas flow, although PG&E officials have said it took about an hour and 45 minutes.

"We'll be ascertaining that," Hart said.

Saying it would be "part of the interview process," Hart declined to discuss with reporters whether the fire sparked by the explosion might have hampered the shutdown procedure.

Seven investigators were expected to stay at the scene in the San Francisco suburb for at least another week to interview witnesses and PG&E employees who operated the pipeline and responded to the explosion, Hart said.

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