By Jeffrey Schaub

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The California Public Utilities Commission at a meeting in San Francisco Thursday allowed PG&E to raise the pressure in a controversial natural gas pipeline in San Carlos to a normal operating level.

At the same time, the commission fined the utility $14.35 million for submitting a misleading and seven-months-late correction of information about seams in the pipeline.

“The CPUC expects nothing less than forthright and timely disclosure in all matters of public safety,” said Commissioner Mark Ferron, who proposed the fine.

“This fine sends a strong signal to PG&E, and to all of the utilities that we regulate, that delay and obfuscation will not be tolerated,” Ferron said.

“PG&E needs to rebuild the public’s trust,” said Commissioner Michel Florio.

The five commissioners voted unanimously to approve both decisions concerning Line 147, which runs on an east-west axis for 3.8 miles underneath Brittan Avenue in San Carlos.

The ruling on the pressure allows PG&E to raise the amount to 330 pounds per square inch, up from the reduced 125 pounds per square inch ordered by the commission in October while it conducted a safety probe.

San Carlos leaders have questioned the line’s safety since early October, when they learned of internal PG&E emails, written 11 months earlier, that raised worries about inaccurate records on the pipe.

In one email, a consulting engineer expressed concerns about thin walls and corrosion in the pipe and asked, “Are we sitting on another San Bruno situation?”

A rupture, explosion and fire at another pipeline in San Bruno killed eight people in that city in 2010.

Although the commission’s staff, an outside expert and PG&E have said raising the pressure in Line 147 would be safe, San Carlos asked for more time to have its own expert investigate it.

San Carlos Mayor Mark Olbert said after the meeting, “Today we are disappointed to see PG&E and the CPUC continue their sad tradition of placing service above safety.”

Olbert said the city is considering various options including a possible lawsuit challenging the CPUC decision.

The city had unsuccessfully proposed allowing PG&E to raise the pressure to 240 psi and to allow 330 psi in an emergency.

But Florio said during the meeting, “unfortunately, that is not a feasible option.” He said that in order to perform its function as a cross tie, the line had to operate at the same pressure as north-south lines running up either side of the Peninsula.

“Without the pressure at 330, there simply won’t be enough gas to serve Northern California” during cold winter weather, Florio said.

(© Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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