Bay Area Congresswoman Says PG&E Can’t Find Key Pipeline Records

SAN BRUNO (CBS / AP) ― Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which is responsible for a gas pipeline that blew up in San Bruno, cannot find key records needed to set safe pressures for nearly a third of its largest transmission lines, a Bay Area congresswoman said Friday.

>> Photo Gallery: San Bruno Explosion

Regulators ordered PG&E and other California utilities to produce such documents following last month’s revelation that records about the exploded line in San Bruno were wrong.

However, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) said PG&E President Chris Johns told her that his staff cannot locate any testing records for 30 percent of the lines coursing through urban areas.

“You need to know what’s in the ground, and I don’t believe they know that,” said Speier, who represents the San Bruno area. “This tells me they have shoddy record-keeping.”

PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson did not immediately confirm or deny the congresswoman’s statement. The company is still in the process of reviewing and validating its pipeline records, he said.

In December, PG&E disclosed it had inaccurate documents about the pipeline that exploded in San Bruno on Sept. 9, sparking a gigantic fireball that killed eight people and destroyed more than three dozen homes.

PG&E records showed the pipe was seamless, but investigators found the spine of the ruptured line had a type of weld that’s now being examined in the search for a cause of the explosion.

Officials have not determined an exact cause but suspect the pipeline may have burst under high pressure.

Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said such record-keeping mistakes pointed to the need for “a new perspective on safety culture” in the industry.

“Our investigators were told that the pipe involved in the explosion was a seamless, factory-manufactured pipe,” Hersman said in a speech earlier this week. “But even a layperson could see the patchwork of welds marking the pipe.”

The California Public Utilities Commission has ordered all state utilities to present reliable records for transmission lines by March 15.

Meanwhile, commission President Michael Peevey said he would ask his fellow commissioners to vote on holding a public investigation into the San Bruno explosion.

The proceeding could include fact-finding hearings and the creation of a clearinghouse for all San Bruno-related documents.

Peevey’s announcement came after San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, state Sen. Mark Leno, The Utility Reform Network and the Consumer Federation of California complained that state investigators had been operating largely in private.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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