Pacific Gas & Electric failed to conduct required surveys on a 73-year-old gas pipeline that runs through the campus and now plans to replace the pipe during the , which begins in June.
PG&E reported the non-compliance in a May 25 letter (attached at right) to the California Public Utilities Commission, saying that while it last surveyed the pipe for leaks in 2010, it did not do so again until earlier this month. The company said that after a May 7 survey, a review of prior leak surveys revealed that the surveys were on a five-year schedule, not an annual schedule as required.
Under state regulations, a “survey must be conducted in business districts and in the vicinity of schools, hospitals and churches … at intervals not exceeding 15 months but at least once each calendar year.”
Prior to the survey earlier this month, the 10-inch pipe was last inspected in 2010 as part of PG&E’s inspection of all of its pipes that operate above 60 pound-force per square inch (psi) in the wake of the tragic . The Edna Maguire pipe, which serves the school and the surrounding neighbors, is a high-pressure line that operates at a maximum of 175 psi.
“The CPUC is analyzing the corrective actions PG&E has taken and any steps to prevent this from happening again, and will decide whether to issue a citation with a penalty for the violation,” said Terrie Prosper, spokesperson for the commission.
In a letter to the CPUC, Bill Gibson, a regulatory compliance director at PG&E, said the company was evaluating its procedures for conducting annual surveys of pipelines near schools and public assembly areas and expects to complete that work by June 30.
PG&E’s corrective actions are also set to include replacing the pipeline this summer.
PG&E spokesperson Brittany McKannay said that an exact timeline for the replacement for the approximately 600 feet of pipe through the Edna campus had not yet been determined. A PG&E rep is scheduled to attend the board’s June 20 meeting to provide a schedule and answer questions about the replacement project.
McKannay said the utility is in the midst of upgrading its older pipelines in the North Bay.
“While we were in discussions with the school district, we realized that it was ideal for us to go through with this upgrade now to avoid interrupting the school in any way,” McKannay said.
The company planned to minimize service disruptions during the project, she added.
“We try to back feed our services from other lines during these types of projects to minimize the impact,” McKannay said.
The current Edna Maguire campus closes when school ends June 15, with contractors set to for the 2012-2013 school year while a new school is built on the current site. The existing school will be demolished in phases over the summer, Ryan said.
“We believe that aligning PG&E’s replacement project with our construction work will limit the disruption to the school and students,” said Tim Ryan, the school district’s director of maintenance and operations. “And it made strong fiscal sense to do this work before MVSD builds our new parking lots and driveways over the easement.”
McKannay declined to say whether the non-compliance report and PG&E’s decision to replace the pipe were connected. Neighbors of the Edna Maguire campus had reached out to a number of regional and state officials in recent weeks about the pipeline.
That included Alto resident Anne Gates, who contacted the offices of state Attorney General Kamala Harris, state Senator Mark Leno, state Assemblyman Jared Huffman and Marin County Supervisor Kate Spears, all of whom Gates said were instrumental in urging PG&E to replace the pipeline.
“Even ignoring the (California Department of Education) standards for pipelines at schools, I find it troubling that the Mill Valley School District would decide to upgrade a 1950’s era school because it was not seismically safe but leave a 1950’s era gas transmission line in place,” Gates wrote in an April 2012 letter to Harris.
“I’m glad that it finally happened,” Gates said of PG&E’s decision to replace the pipe. “I just wanted the line to be fixed.”
The revelation of PG&E’s non-compliance comes on the heels of a San Francisco Chronicle report that PG&E has accidentally over-pressurized pipelines on its gas system more than 120 times since the San Bruno explosion in September 2010. The report was based on an internal email from the company's top gas official, who called the over-pressurization unacceptable.
Experts told the Chronicle that the over-pressurization could increase the risk of a disaster similar to the one in San Bruno, which happened after an unexpected gas pressure surge ruptured a substandard weld, with the blast and resulting fire killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.