San Bruno Blast: ‘A Litany of Failures’

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 @ 01:09 PM gHale

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) is to blame for a gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and decimated a suburban neighborhood near San Francisco last year, according to a final report and video released from federal investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) posted online its 140-page report and a 20-minute video pulling together information gathered in a yearlong investigation of the Sept. 9, 2010, explosion and fire in San Bruno, CA. Part of the report reads:

Feds: CA Pipeline Blast ‘Clearly Preventable’
Pipeline Database Aids Utilities
Gas Plant Blast Injures Five
Forecasting Fractures in Pipes

“On September 9, 2010, about 6:11 p.m. Pacific daylight time, a 30-inch-diameter segment of an intrastate natural gas transmission pipeline known as Line 132, owned and operated by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), ruptured in a residential area in San Bruno, California. The rupture occurred at mile point 39.28 of Line 132, at the intersection of Earl Avenue and Glenview Drive. The rupture produced a crater about 72 feet long by 26 feet wide. The section of pipe that ruptured, which was about 28 feet long and weighed about 3,000 pounds, was found 100 feet south of the crater. PG&E estimated that 47.6 million standard cubic feet of natural gas was released. The released natural gas ignited, resulting in a fire that destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70. Eight people were killed, many were injured, and many more were evacuated from the area.”

The board unanimously agreed at a meeting last month the accident occurred through what NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman called “a litany of failures” by PG&E, one of the nation’s largest gas companies, as well as weak oversight by regulators. She called the explosion the nation’s most significant pipeline accident in the last decade, not only in terms of its destructiveness, but also for the significant safety lapses it revealed.

The report, which essentially enumerates findings and conclusions presented at the August meeting, said events that led up to the accident began more than 50 years ago with the installation of substandard pipe with inferior welds. PG&E didn’t discover the problem because it failed to conduct proper pressure tests or visual inspections of the pipeline. Key records relating to the pipeline’s origin are missing. Other records incorrectly describe the section pipe that ruptured as being seamless rather than welded, which led the gas company to place a maximum gas pressure limit on the line that was too high for the pipe to withstand.

Destruction caused by the accident was significantly worse because of PG&E’s ineptness, according to the report. Long after the company’s control room operators knew the source of the fire was the rupture of a large transmission line they neglected to relay that information to 911 operators or emergency responders, who thought they were dealing with a plane crash. The fire burned at least an hour longer than it would have if PG&E had installed automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves.

As a result of the accident, the board has issued 39 safety recommendations to PG&E, gas pipeline operators, and federal and state regulators.

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