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PG&E Inspected At-Risk Pipeline After Explosion

PG&E President Chris Johns, in San Bruno
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PG&E President Chris Johns, in San Bruno
E-mail sent to state officials Sunday morning reveals concerns about safety

Updated Sept. 13 at 6:58 p.m.

In the wake of Thursday night's gas line explosion in San Bruno, PG&E employees went out Friday to inspect what the utility has classified as a section of Line 132 at high risk of failure located north of the rupture and did not find any leaks, according to an e-mail PG&E sent on Sunday morning to state government officials.

The e-mail was sent by a PG&E government relations official to recipients, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's chief environmental advisor, state legislative aides and California Public Utilities Commission staff. It came after The Bay Citizen published a report on Saturday highlighting a legal filing from 2009 in which PG&E described a section of Line 132 — located roughly three miles south of Thursday's rupture — as having an "unacceptably" high risk of failure.

"Yesterday a questions [sic] was raised about information in our Gas Transmission and Storage Rate Case," Kent Kauss, the PG&E government relations consultant, said in the e-mail reviewed by The Bay Citizen. "The segment identified in this filing was checked for leaks on September 10, 2010 and no leaks were found."

The timing of the Friday inspection suggested that PG&E considered the high-risk section to be of concern, although the utility, since Saturday, has sought to downplay a connection between the rupture and the section in question.

In an interview for the story on Saturday, PG&E Senior Vice President Ed Salas described the high-risk section of the pipeline as "physically well north" of the rupture.

"We had no way to anticipate what occurred here," said Salas. "We would never leave a hazardous situation in place if one exists."

The e-mail also revealed that in 2007, PG&E terminated a leak inspector who falsified reports, although the incident, and the employee's termination, were never made public by the company because "there was no safety threat to the public," Kauss wrote. The e-mail did not specify where the terminated employee worked.

"We provided our regulator, the CPUC, this information as we discovered the deficiencies and designed and implemented the improvements," Kauss wrote. "This was an isolated event by one of several hundred employees who do this type of work. It was in no way reflective of the integrity of the vast majority of our people."

He added: "Upon discovery, PG&E immediately developed a plan for corrective action including a complete resurvey of the entire division."

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