Training Flaws Found for Pipeline Workers

Friday, July 11, 2014 @ 05:07 PM gHale

PG&E discovered flaws in the training for hundreds of employees who fuse together plastic pipes used to deliver natural gas to customers.

“The natural gas system is still safe,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E vice president of asset knowledge management. “We do not consider this to be a safety concern. We do a proof test, pressure tests, on all the pipes that are fused together.”

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San Francisco-based PG&E notified its principal regulator, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and cities that it serves about the flaws in the training and qualification for employees. This is the latest stumble for the utility as it faces the prospect of a big fine and new criminal charges over a fatal explosion in San Bruno in 2010.

Employees who are responsible for heat fusion of plastic pipes must take a test to become qualified. Then about a year after that, the employees must take a second set of tests to requalify them for the pipe fusion. The utility learned the second portion of the requalification testing did not always occur.

PG&E isn’t sure for how long it has been conducting the flawed requalification tests, but Singh said the problem “goes back several years.”

The utility said it has halted heat fusion work until employees complete the requalification session. About 1,400 workers are a part of that process, Singh said. PG&E said it routinely uses heat fusion in its gas distribution system.

“This includes new construction, repairs and pipe upgrades,” PG&E said in the letter to the PUC and officials of cities served by the utility’s natural gas system.

In 2010, a San Bruno neighborhood suffered a blast from a gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes.

PG&E faces a fine of up to $2 billion as its punishment for the explosion and also must contend with a federal criminal prosecution and felony charges resulting from the disaster. Investigators blamed the explosion on shoddy maintenance, flawed record-keeping and lax regulatory oversight.

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