PG&E to Replace Faulty Gas Pipe

Monday, October 17, 2011 @ 05:10 PM gHale

After a leaky plastic gas pipe sparked a fire at a Cupertino, CA, condominium complex, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) said it will replace all 1,231 miles of the aging and notoriously faulty pipeline spread across the state.

The massive project will start next month in Cupertino and Roseville and in St. Helena. PG&E will start digging in communities across Northern California and in every Bay Area county. The project should take over three years and the cost should be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, officials said.

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Unlike the 30-inch steel transmission gas line that ruptured last year, killing eight people in San Bruno, the 2-inch wide plastic pipe that failed in Cupertino six weeks ago is part of PG&E’s network of 42,000 miles of distribution lines that deliver gas directly to businesses and homes.

The plastic pipe, manufactured by DuPont before 1973 under the name Aldyl-A, has a history of cracking, prompting numerous federal safety advisories dating to 1998.

“This is the oldest vintage. We know it is predisposed to cracking,” said Jane Yura, PG&E’s vice president of standards and policies for gas operations. “We are looking at what we need to do to remove the risks and run a safe system.”

Replacing all 1,231 miles of PG&E’s pre-1973 Aldyl-A pipe will take more than three years, Yura said. She said PG&E will go to the California Public Utilities Commission, probably next year, to ask for a rate increase to cover the cost, which she said the company had not finished estimating yet.

The company also is building computerized maps to digitize 15,000 paper maps showing the location of the pipe statewide. It is building a database to help analyze leaks and find where they should replace the first sections, Yura said. And it will replace some of the 6,676 miles of Aldyl-A pipe built after 1973 in areas with higher-than-normal leak histories, she said, even though that vintage of pipe has not been the subject of federal advisories.

No federal or state law requires PG&E to dig up all of its Aldyl-A pipe. But problems across the country with it have resulted in numerous lawsuits and multimillion-dollar settlements, dating back decades.

“They know they have 1,200 miles of old, worn out, defective pipe,” said Jim Findley, of San Rafael, a PG&E gas measurement and control mechanic for 38 years who has raised safety issues about Aldyl-A pipe at PG&E shareholder meetings.

“Sooner or later, this is going to pop up on some attorney’s or law firm’s screens, and they are going to be going after PG&E for not doing due diligence.”

PG&E found numerous leaks in pipes at the Northpoint condominium complex in Cupertino after an Aug. 31 fire gutted a woman’s home only 15 minutes after she had left.

On Sept. 27, another Aldyl-A distribution line failed under a Roseville intersection, sending flames shooting into the air for seven hours.

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