PG&E Fined $8.1 Million For Unsafe Pipeline Work

SAN FRANCISCO – The California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco today issued a staff citation with an $8.1 million fine to PG&E for allowing a contractor to conduct inadequate X-ray tests on natural gas pipeline welds.

The commission staff said in the citation that a PG&E employee discovered on March 26 that an outside contractor was performing radiographic tests on a pipeline in Brentwood that didn’t meet a federal requirement for evaluation of the full circumference of a line.

The citation said PG&E fired the contractor and conducted new tests on that line, and also conducted an internal review that found 224 previous instances where the same contractor violated the requirement.

The planned $8.1 million fine is for the 224 previous violations.

PG&E has 10 days to either pay the penalty or begin an appeal process before a CPUC administrative law judge.

Asked whether the utility plans to appeal, PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said, “We are reviewing the decision and will respond accordingly.”

Jack Hagan, the director of the commission’s safety and enforcement division, said in a statement, “It is totally unacceptable that prior to March of this year — two and a half years after the San Bruno tragedy — PG&E could employ contractors for important testing that would do such shoddy work.

“Still more unacceptable is that PG&E would do such poor quality control of their contractors,” Hagan said.

In San Bruno, a pipeline rupture, explosion and fire killed eight people in 2010.

Hagan said in a letter accompanying the citation that the staff has uncovered no evidence thus far that the violations caused immediate safety risks, but said the investigation is continuing.

He instructed the utility to expand a pipeline leak survey, develop a plan for a comprehensive review of possible testing violations, expand its corrective action plan and inform local communities that are affected by the problem.

PG&E said in a statement that it is preparing a plan to submit to the commission for a quality assurance review of pipeline inspections.

The utility’s executive vice president for gas operations, Nick Stavropoulos, said in the statement, “We’re committed to becoming the safest and most reliable gas system in the country.

“Anywhere there are problems, we want to find them and fix them,” he said.

In other proceedings, the CPUC is currently considering a potential PG&E fine and penalty of as much as $2.25 billion in connection with the San Bruno explosion, and a possible fine that could be between $6.75 million and $17.25 million for a delayed and misleading correction of weld records on a San Carlos pipeline.

(Copyright 2013, Bay City News, All rights reserved.)

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