The San Carlos City Council is demanding PG&E shut down an 84-year-old gas line that runs through densely developed neighborhoods, calling it a potential public safety hazard that might leave residents and visitors “sitting on a San Bruno situation.”
The council gathered Friday evening in a hastily called meeting to declare a public health and safety emergency and request Pacific Gas and Electric shut down Line 147 until the California Public Utilities Commission has determined it is safe to operate.
A resolution was adopted to request the utility shut down the line until it is investigated and determined safe. Before the meeting, the city obtained a temporary injunction against PG&E in San Mateo County Superior Court signed by Judge George Marian which requires PG&E to immediately shut off service to the line in the city. A hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 24 to hear both parties, according to a city press release.
“The city fully expects PG&E to comply with the court order to shut down Line 147 as a sign that they are concerned about public safety and the pipeline issues raised by the city,” the release stated.
Councilman Mark Olbert said prior to the meeting that as he understood the situation, it is not one of imminent threat and the city is not trying to set off alarm bells. However, Olbert said PG&E’s track record on record keeping is “very disturbing” and the declaration is the beginning step toward further action if necessary to force the closure.
“As San Bruno showed, they fell down on record keeping. They don’t know what they have in the ground in a lot of places,” Olbert said, referencing the Sept. 10, 2010 explosion and fire that killed eight, injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes.
In a statement issued Friday, City Manager Jeff Maltbie said the emergency declaration will be followed by pursuing a court-ordered shutdown of the line. PG&E’s refusal to suspend operations is “an outrage,” Maltbie said.
In a letter to Maltbie Friday, PG&E officials emphasized that the line was tested in 2011 and showed it would withstand beyond current operating pressure. A test this summer also indicated that there was no evidence of crack growth during service or hydro testing, according to the letter.
PG&E said it will voluntarily reduce the line pressure by 20 percent and evaluate if any additional pressure reduction can be done without affecting gas delivery.
“We want our customers to know that Line 147 is safe and if a line wasn’t safe we wouldn’t keep it in service,” said spokesman Greg Snapper.
San Carlos city staff sprung into action after Oct. 3 when PG&E shared email exchanges from Nov. 15 to Nov. 17 of 2012 that call into question the safety of Line 147 which cuts west to east through San Carlos roughly parallel with Brittan Avenue. The emails, from an unnamed PG&E employee with gas transmission expertise, stated the utility was concerned about the specific pipeline which dates from 1929 and in 2011 tested to only 1.5 times the maximum allowable operating pressure, according to the city resolution.
The employee also noted a thin wall pipe with external corrosion that caused a leak in October 2012 needed repair. The employee also questioned if hydrostatic testing in 2011 caused more cracking and “activated a threat of failure.”
The city’s emergency declaration said the employee raised “a horrifyingly real fear” that people in San Carlos might be “sitting on a San Bruno situation.”
The information came to San Carlos after PG&E on July 3 gave the CPUC documents that corrected previous records about Line 147’s safety at high pressure operations and contradicted its earlier assurances.
Snapper said PG&E is glad when employees ask these important questions and that it led to testing by a third party.
Local state and federal politicians immediately joined San Carlos’ call for action. U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said the utility engineer’s concerns about the pipeline cracking as a result of the test should be reason alone to turn it off but added the withholding of the information from the city is another.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, also chimed in.
“Given the San Bruno tragedy, PG&E should err on the side of caution and shut down Line 147 immediately until it can assure the public that the line is 100 percent safe,” Mullin said.
Anyone who detects the smell of gas should contact PG&E’s emergency service center at (800) 743-5000.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102