SF Examiner file photoNew natural gas pipeline legislation was drafted in response to the pipeline explosion in San Bruno

New law imposes stricter standards for natural gas providers in California

A state law containing stricter guidelines for natural gas pipeline operators is set to take effect on Jan. 1.

Assembly Bill 56 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will require utilities to install remote-controlled shut-off valves on pipelines that run through highly populated areas.

The new law will also require the California Public Utilities Commission to track money it grants for pipeline repairs to make sure funds are being used properly, and it will prohibit utilities from using ratepayer money to pay penalties for safety violations.

The law further requires the state's natural gas providers to meet annually with local fire departments to review emergency response plans.

The new legislation was drafted in response to the pipeline explosion in San Bruno, which killed eight people, destroyed 38 homes and damaged dozens more on Sept. 9, 2010.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the disaster concluded that the time it took PG&E operators to manually shut off the gas supply contributed to the severity of the damage caused by the explosion and fire.

The NTSB also found that PG&E had insufficient records regarding pipelines and pipeline testing in high consequence areas, and that local emergency agencies were unaware of the major natural gas infrastructure running through their communities.

“This is the strongest pipeline safety law in the country,” Hill said when the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October. “California is going beyond federal standards and being a leader.”

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