Posts Tagged ‘PG&E’
Thursday, May 9, 2013 @ 02:05 PM gHale
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) should pay a $2.25 billion fine for its negligence leading up to the deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion in a San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood, a state agency said.
The California Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) investigators said the fine, would be the largest ever assessed by a state regulator, was an appropriate remedy for dozens of violations extending back decades, and said the company’s shareholders should shoulder the cost, not the utility’s customers.
“They have just plain failed to follow safety standards in so many areas,” said Brigadier General Jack Hagan, director of the commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division. “This is going to send a very strong deterrent message to PG&E that this kind of conduct and culture will not be tolerated.”
The blast in San Bruno sparked a fireball that killed eight people, injured dozens more and destroyed 38 homes in the quiet bedroom community.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unanimously agreed in 2011 that the accident was the result of what board chairman Deborah Hersman called a “litany of failures” by PG&E, as well as weak oversight by regulators.
Separate from the NTSB investigation, investigators at the utilities commission blamed PG&E for the explosion, which occurred when an underground pipeline ruptured at the site of a decades-old faulty weld, sparking a gas-fueled fire.
The City of San Bruno, which is still struggling to rebuild the neighborhood devastated in the blast, said earlier Monday the utility’s shareholders should pay no less than $1.25 billion in fines, plus at least $1 billion toward pipeline inspection and upgrade costs.
PG&E will file its proposal later this month, and a judge from the utilities commission will make a final decision about how much to fine PG&E later this year.
“The penalties proposed by the commission staff and others far exceed anything that I have seen in my 30 years in the industry,” PG&E Corp. Chief Executive Tony Earley said. He added the penalty “could dramatically set back our efforts to do the right thing by making it harder and more costly to finance the remaining improvements that are needed in our gas system.”
Consumer advocates said the fine the commission proposed was appropriate, given the company’s myriad violations before the blast and an outside consultant’s finding that PG&E could raise $2.25 billion in equity to cover fines without damaging its financial condition.
Monday, March 25, 2013 @ 11:03 AM gHale
Utilities remain on alert at all times because of the potential harm one little cyber attack could cause, but California officials are especially on their toes these days.
The California Public Utilities Commission is now considering rules to bolster cyber-security protections to prevent potentially devastating attacks.
The agency warned utilities were becoming vulnerable to cyber attacks as their networks add smart meters and other computerized gear. Many providers are reluctant to report they suffered an attack because they worry disclosure could expose them to liability.
Experts say a cyber attack against an electric utility could lead to massive power outages that shut down water and transportation, threaten the sick and elderly and cause billions of dollars in damage.
“We will see catastrophic outages,” James Sample, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s (PG&E) chief information security officer, warned state regulators at an energy company forum. “We are dealing with a very intelligent adversary.”
Although PG&E doesn’t believe hackers have caused major problems at the San Francisco-based utility, Sample said, “We’re seeing increased phishing-type attempts,” typically fake emails aimed at stealing information.
Late last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported hackers were infiltrating “oil and natural gas pipelines and electric power organizations at an alarming rate.” The agency said it knew of 198 such “cyber-incidents” just last year.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 @ 04:02 PM gHale
Safety training procedures are now top of mind at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) after the deaths of three workers in three years.
The deaths prompted PG&E officials to revamp electrical workers’ training, to make sure new employees undergo proper training and veterans don’t cut corners on safety procedures.
After Maximiliano Martinez’s electrocution in March of 2010, Cal/OSHA found nine violations by PG&E of workplace safety laws, several of them serious, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Since the 26-year-old lineman died, two more PG&E workers ended up dead in similar accidents.
Gerald “Jerry” Biedinger, 57, died in August 2010 when his digging rig hit an electrical line in Tuolumne City, CA.
Jon Christensen, 30, died in June 2011, in Tracy, CA, as he separated crossed wires without wearing the proper rubber gloves, according to the Cal/OSHA report on the incident.
PG&E is appealing the $18,000 fine that Cal/OSHA is seeking in the Christensen case, while it paid a $14,000 fine for violations related to Biedinger’s death.
Following the deaths of the three workers, the company has developed what PG&E spokesman Joe Molica called “a top-to-bottom approach to training,” with increased training for new electrical line workers and additional training for veterans.
“We take these matters extremely seriously,” Molica said. “Anytime we lose a member of the PG&E family, it’s a tragedy.”
PG&E declined to comment on the specifics of Martinez’s or Christensen’s deaths while its appeals of the Cal/OSHA fines are pending.
In appealing the $176,000 fine for Martinez’s death, however, the company argued the lineman may not have followed PG&E policies, Cal/OSHA records show.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 @ 02:10 PM gHale
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Corp.’s Diablo Canyon nuclear station in California could withstand an earthquake generated by an offshore fault identified in 2008, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said.
The NRC’s report focuses on the latest identified earthquake source, called the “Shoreline fault,” just offshore from the plant in San Luis Obispo County, about 183 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
PG&E welcomed the NRC finding “which confirms that Diablo Canyon is seismically safe and is designed to withstand the maximum ground motions that seismic faults in the region are believed capable of producing.”
PG&E notified the NRC about the Shoreline fault in 2008. At 2,240 megawatts, Diablo Canyon is the larger of the state’s two nuclear power plants, supplying about 10 percent of the state’s power needs.
“Both PG&E and the NRC are continuing to look at the seismic characteristics of the Shoreline fault,” said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks. “This research information letter represents the staff’s latest analysis and basically concludes that the plant, as designed, would withstand any earthquake the Shoreline fault would generate.”
An NRC team visited the site in 2011, the agency said. Analysis from the visit and available information indicates that ground motion from earthquakes the Shoreline fault could potentially generate would fall within Diablo Canyon’s existing design limits, the agency said.
The plant’s design limits come from ground motion associated with an earthquake from the larger Hosgri fault near the plant, the NRC said.
Separately, PG&E is performing a $64 million seismic research effort mandated by the state legislature using three-dimensional seismic tests to better understand the hazards posed by potential earthquakes near the plant.
In August, the California State Lands Commission voted to allow the utility to move forward with the advanced tests using powerful sonar devices despite concerns about the impact on marine life.
At the request of the utility, its NRC application to extend the two Diablo Canyon reactors’ operating licenses beyond 2024 and 2025 will not finalize until the advanced seismic research called for by the state is completed.
Diablo Canyon must perform additional earthquake evaluations, as well as a “walkdown” to identify any near-term actions for enhancing earthquake resistance as part of the agency’s ongoing response to the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident in Japan which ended up triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.
Thursday, July 5, 2012 @ 03:07 PM gHale
More than 200 gas transmission lines are at-risk of exploding just like the one in San Bruno, CA, PG&E said.
A PG&E report identified 500 trouble spots of the sort that led to the San Bruno disaster. It concerns pipelines over-pressurized by the utility company. The company filed the report last March with the Public Utilities Commission, but it didn’t come to light until a reporter dug it up.
In 2010 a pipeline in a residential neighborhood in San Bruno exploded, killing eight people.
The report identifies 239 gas transmission lines at risk of failure similar to the explosion of Line 132 in San Bruno.
“It’s important to remember this is 40-something, about 46 miles out of our entire system, so there (are) 230 lines that were identified here, but it’s only small segments of those lines. It could be anywhere from a foot to a few thousand feet,” PG&E spokesman David Eisenhower said. The utility is taking action to test or repair the trouble spots, Eisenhower said.
Three lines identified include Lines 101 and 109 between San Francisco and Milpitas, and Line 132, the same one that blew up killing eight people.
State Assemblyman Jerry Hill said PG&E hired an outside firm to assess the trouble area and he’s calling on the Public Utilities Commission to demand testing on all the troubled spots.
“The law clearly states that you have to hydrotest those pipes afterwards and I think this is the test. This is going to be the test of the California Public Utilities Commission. Are they going to stand by the law and what it says or are they going to allow PG&E to get away with not doing the appropriate testing which is what they’ve been doing all along and that’s what got us in trouble in San Bruno,” he said.
Thursday, May 31, 2012 @ 05:05 PM gHale
Beleaguered Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) could be facing more fines for violating standards related to running high-pressure natural gas pipelines at or near densely populated areas.
PG&E has been under intense scrutiny after a pipeline blast in 2010 killed eight people in San Bruno, CA. In March, the utility agreed to pay $70 million to resolve and settle related claims.
PG&E’s failure to properly classify its pipelines and document past patrols of transmission lines led to 3,062 violations of state and federal standards, PG&E said in a regulatory filing Tuesday, citing a regulatory report.
The duration of the violations was equivalent to more than 15 million days, according to the report by the Consumer Protection and Safety Division of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
The report urged the CPUC to levy significant penalties but did not recommend a specific amount, PG&E said.
Pacific Gas, which has it operations in northern and central California, could get a fine of up to $20,000 per day for each violation that occurred after Jan. 1, 1993 and before Jan. 1 this year.
The fines may go up to $50,000 for violations that occurred on or after Jan. 1 this year, PG&E said in the filing.
Pacific Gas can respond to the report by July 23, PG&E said.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012 @ 11:05 PM gHale
One of the results of the pipeline blast in San Bruno, CA, is energy companies will need to keep up-to-date records to prove they are running aging pipelines at safe pressures.
If pipeline operators can’t ensure their oil and gas lines are running at safe pressures by next year, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said the companies could face penalties or some other type of sanction.
The advisory bulletin the administration issued Monday mentioned the September 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured more and left 38 homes in smoking ruins.
The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the accident on multiple failures by one of the nation’s largest natural gas companies, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), including shoddy records based on incomplete and inaccurate pipeline information.
The company has undertaken a vigorous records review and verified that its transmission lines in urban areas are running at the right pressures, said PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer.
“We continue to gather, scan and verify millions of records,” he said.
Federal and state officials will be responsible for enforcing the new guidelines, pipeline safety agency spokeswoman Jeannie Layson said. All companies will be required to keep traceable, verifiable and complete records about pipelines that ferry hazardous fuels through the nation’s most populated areas.
In a later phase, PHMSA also will direct energy companies on what to do if they can’t find records for all their pipelines, she added.
In the wake of the San Bruno explosion, California regulators ordered PG&E and other state utilities to drop the pressure on their pipelines and produce any records of pressure tests done to ensure pipelines did not threaten surrounding communities.
PG&E’s computer records originally showed the decades-old, high-pressure transmission line that blew was seamless. But company officials later acknowledged problems when the old paper records incorporated into the utility’s computer system.
PG&E ultimately rented a hulking concert venue where dozens of employees sorted through more than 1.25 million individual gas transmission records hauled out from branch offices and storage facilities to find the required records.
The California Public Utilities Commission is currently weighing whether the record-keeping lapses violated state and federal laws and contributed to the pipeline rupture.
Friday, April 27, 2012 @ 03:04 PM gHale
Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is shut down. Not because of any natural disasters or technical device issues, it is because of jellyfish-like creatures.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) said large numbers of sea salps entering the plant’s cooling water system caused the shutdown of the one nuclear reactor that was operating at the time. The other reactor shut down early this week for a scheduled refueling outage.
On Tuesday, the utility lowered the reactor’s output to 15 percent as a result of the salp influx. The unit was later ramped up to 24 percent before being shut down entirely.
The unit will not restart until conditions are favorable to do so, plant officials say.
Salps are small barrel-shaped plankton called tunicates, similar to jellyfish, that can grow to nearly four inches in length. They move by pumping water through their bodies. They often float in the water in string- or rope-like fashion.
Monday, April 23, 2012 @ 11:04 AM gHale
PG&E is facing a fine of nearly $17 million for irregularities in the utility’s gas pipeline safety testing in Contra Costa County, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said.
In January, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a $16.76 million citation for the utility’s failure to conduct gas safety tests on more than 13 miles of gas distribution pipelines in several cities in Contra Costa County, including Danville, Antioch, Pittsburg and Concord.
Some stretches of pipeline had not undergone tests for leaks since 1993, a violation of federal and state pipeline safety regulations, according to CPUC.
PG&E, which serves Pinole residents, appealed the citation in February. The appeal ended up denied by a CPUC administrative law judge, and CPUC re-ordered the utility to pay the citation Thursday.
PG&E self-reported the missed leak surveys, and the utility does not disagree with the safety violations, just the “excessive” amount of money it has to pay, said PG&E Executive Vice President for Gas Operations Nick Stavropoulos.
“PG&E understands that when we make a mistake, we own up,” Stavropoulos said. “As we stated in our appeal, we believe the penalty amount is excessive because we did the right thing by promptly self-reporting the violation.”
Stavropoulos went on to say that PG&E has “dramatically stepped up” its efforts to make sure that its operations and equipment are tested and safe, in the Bay Area and throughout PG&E’s service area.