Cameras to put eye on exploded pipeline

PG&E Corp. is hoping a specialized video inspection system for pipelines will help it learn more about the natural gas transmission line that exploded and devastated a neighborhood just over a month ago.

For just over a week, the utility has been sending two of the motorized camera systems from Canadian company Inuktun into Line 132, a 30-inch pipeline that runs underneath the city’s Crestmoor neighborhood, said PG&E spokesman Joe Molica. The pipeline exploded Sept. 9, killing eight people and destroying three dozen homes.

Molica said images from the futuristic-looking camera systems, equipped with tank treads and bright lights, would be shared with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board — which is leading the probe into the cause of the deadly blast — as well as the California Public Utilities Commission and city officials.

“It’s all part of our assessment work to assess the condition of the pipeline,” Molica said, though he could not say specifically what authorities are looking for.

The remote-controlled devices are inspecting the pipe between the blast site and the two nearest valve stations, which are about two-thirds of a mile in either direction from the blast site, Molica said.

While the probe continues, Molica said PG&E has not yet decided whether it will rebuild the transmission line, relocate it somewhere else or choose some other option. 

“We’re currently evaluating the impacts of all options and we will work closely with stakeholders to determine the best alternative,” Molica said.

Mayor Jim Ruane said he doubts there will be any work on Line 132 while the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation is continuing and said it’s “way too premature” to speculate on what’s going to happen to the pipeline.</p>

“I don’t think until somebody signs off on something you’re going to see any reconstruction,” Ruane said.

For now, residents in the neighborhood have been getting their natural gas through PG&E’s other transmission and distribution lines in the area. Molica said the utility will be keeping track on how the area performs without Line 132, especially as the weather cools and heating demands go up.

“Ensuring the delivery of reliable gas to our customers is a priority to us,” Molica said. “This is a factor we are evaluating as we continue to assess the impacts of all the options, with weather playing a significant role.”

Ruane said he expects the ongoing work to clear the charred debris of the houses that were destroyed to be wrapping up soon.

“It’s been a month to the day and I’ve seen a lot of progress up there,” Ruane said, “but we’ve got a long way to go.”

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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