California Utility Regulators Boost Pipeline Inspection Team

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS / AP) — California utility regulators are hiring five more gas pipeline inspectors and creating a new unit aimed at preventing accidents like the devastating blast in San Bruno.

The California Public Utilities Commission announced the plan Thursday, following the recommendations of a high-level, independent panel that urged reforms in the wake of last September’s explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. transmission line. Eight people died, dozens were injured and 38 homes were destroyed.

KCBS’ Barbara Taylor Reports:

The panel didn’t explore the accident’s root cause but suggested that major reorganizations were necessary at the commission, which panelists deemed was understaffed and underspecialized.

The five new hires will bring the state’s pipeline inspection team to 18. Commissioners also will create a new risk assessment unit to research, develop and propose tools to improve pipeline safety.

“We’ve got to learn those lessons,” PUC Executive Director Paul Clanon said. “We’ve got to reform ourselves, and part of that means getting more boots out on the ground.”

State Assemblyman Jerry Hill, who represents San Bruno, called this a positive step, but also an admission of lax oversight in the past.

“What we’ve learned since that tragedy, is that the PUC basically allowed PG&E to police itself when it came to safety and did not independently audit the company’s records,” he said.

The four-person risk assessment unit will develop new pipeline safety guidelines based on performance, not existing regulations, all focused on preventing another San Bruno disaster in the future.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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