CPUC clears PG&E of claims regarding unsafe pipe welds

Getty Images File PhotoDeadly toll: An NTSB report conducted after the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipe blast laid blame on PG&E.

PG&E did not cut corners on pipeline welds to reduce costs, according to a report released Wednesday by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The report comes as the utility company has faced increased scrutiny of its practices in the wake of the 2010 fatal gas pipeline blast in San Bruno.

The allegations were made in written testimony by unionized workers Marshall Worland and Mike Mikich. Both men alleged that certain welds performed by PG&E on specific gas pipeline segments were problematic, the pipes had extensive corrosion, and “wedding bands” were used to join pipes instead of butt welding, which connects parts running parallel that do not overlap.

However, the CPUC staff “did not find any instances in which welds were not inspected in compliance with federal and state gas pipeline safety regulations,” the 11-page report stated.

The report was compiled over the past seven months, and both Worland and Mikich were interviewed. CPUC staff also reviewed records  and oversaw excavation and re-examination of the pipe and welds at two locations where both men would have performed inspections.

The CPUC has been working to develop new safety and reliability rules for natural-gas pipelines, an effort that stems from the explosion in San Bruno on Sept. 9, 2010, that killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes.

Testimony from Worland and Mikich was submitted through the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters, locals 246 and 342. Mikich was a welder for PG&E contractor ARB, while Worland worked for Canus, a firm PG&E used for excavation and oversight.

The results are in contrast to findings from the National Transportation Safety Board in August 2011, which faulted PG&E for its record-keeping and said the company “exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight and government agencies that placed a blind trust in operators to the detriment of public safety.”

The NTSB found that many sections of the pipe that exploded in San Bruno were not welded properly. As a result, it made 12 recommendations for PG&E to improve its operations and inspections of pipes.

On Wednesday, PG&E announced that it had completed its fourth recommendation from the NTSB by revamping its gas emergency response plans. PG&E also has created an emergency procedure and a process of notifying 911 and completed an intensive records search.

PG&E executives said the progress they are making is acceptable with the NTSB and the company hopes to complete two more required improvements early next year.

Worland and Mikich are not the only whistle-blowers to allege PG&E had done faulty repairs and record keeping. In March, Ken Myers told The San Francisco Examiner that his former employer allegedly delayed repairs to leaks in pipelines.

And Todd Arnett, a former senior engineer for PG&E, testified in San Mateo Superior Court in February that he repeatedly warned supervisors that the company’s gas records were incomplete, endangering the public.

Peninsula Assemblyman Jerry Hill, who’s been a vocal advocate for San Bruno victims, said the CPUC report and investigation is a step in the right direction.

“We need independent reviews because we cannot rely on PG&E’s public-relations campaign,” he said.

CPUC officials said they continue to monitor PG&E’s pipeline safety programs and practices.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsLocalSan BrunoSan Francisco

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