Thursday, January 27, 2011

[californiadisasters] San Bruno Fire: NTSB Chair Rips PG&E's Records

San Bruno fire: NTSB chair rips PG&E's records

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s record-keeping blunders leading up to the San Bruno natural-gas explosion indicate the need for "a new perspective on safety culture" throughout the industry, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

Deborah Hersman described how her investigators learned shortly after the 30-inch transmission pipeline exploded Sept. 9 that PG&E had no clue about the line's characteristics, and said that to this day the company has been unable to find basic records on the manufacture and 1956 installation of the pipe. By law, companies are supposed to retain such documentation and use it to check for potential threats to pipelines.

"In the years since the pipe was put into service, decisions regarding inspections, operating pressures and risk management plans were all based on facts that were just plain wrong," Hersman said in a speech in Washington to the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board, a gathering of thousands of policymakers, researchers, industry officials and academicians.

PG&E's key mistake was its belief that the pipe had been built without seams. In fact, the pipe had been cobbled together from several pieces and had a poorly welded longitudinal seam that finally ruptured, the safety board said last week.

Taking aim at PG&E

The tone of Hersman's comments indicated that the agency could come down hard on PG&E when it issues its final report on the explosion and fire that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. The NTSB, however, has no regulatory authority over the utility.


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