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September 13, 2011 > Legislature improves gas pipeline safety, emergency response

Legislature improves gas pipeline safety, emergency response

Legislation will help prevent recurrence of deadly San Bruno explosion

Submitted By Teala Schaff

In response to one of the worst disasters in the history of the nation's natural gas industry, members of the California State Legislature have produced a package of bills to improve gas pipeline safety, its oversight and emergency response if anything goes wrong.

The bills, which are all expected to reach the governor's desk, are authored by Senator Mark Leno (D- San Francisco), Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), Assembly Member Jerry Hill (D-South San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett (D-San Leandro).

Friday, September 9, 2011, marks the one year anniversary of the San Bruno tragedy, when a high-pressure gas transmission line exploded, killing eight people and destroying an entire neighborhood.

Senate Bill 705 (Leno) enacts a clear policy that safety is an absolute priority in the provision of natural gas service in this state. SB 705 embodies a broad vision for achieving this goal by requiring utilities to create a safety culture and develop a comprehensive safety plan.

"While we cannot change the horrific events that resulted in the devastation in San Bruno, we can insist on changes in the gas-corporation culture that would help prevent future tragedies," Leno said. "At the top of the list is the reasonable expectation that every gas corporation in this state makes the safety of its employees and the public its absolute top priority. Furthermore, the financial repercussions of failing to consistently adhere to industry-recognized safety measures should not be borne by rate-paying consumers."

Senate Bill 216 (Yee) would require installation of automatic, or remotely-controlled, valves on all pipelines that cross an active seismic earthquake fault or are located within a High Consequence Area. Under SB 216, automatic, or remotely-controlled, shutoff valves would be required every 2.5 miles in the highest density areas (Class 4); every 4 miles in medium density areas (Class 3); every 7.5 miles in low density areas (Class 2); and every 10 miles in extremely low density areas (Class 1). Currently, federal regulations only require manual shutoff valves in these locations. The bill now awaits action from the governor.

"If SB 216 had been in place last year, the devastation in San Bruno would have been limited and lives could have been saved," Yee said. "We must continue to be vigilant in holding PG&E and other utility companies accountable. SB 216 is one of the ways we will hold them accountable and help ensure residents are safe."

Senate Bill 44 (Corbett) adopts stricter emergency response standards to improve coordination and response with first responders to pipeline problems to minimize loss of life and help prevent damage to property. The standards include procedures to ensure emergency shutdown and pressure reduction is utilized whenever deemed necessary; gas operators have established and maintained liaisons with appropriate fire, police and other local officials; and fire chiefs are given appropriate maps of where natural gas pipelines are located in a format that can be easily integrated with their other mapping information. The bill now awaits action from the governor.

"In the year following the tragic San Bruno explosion, we've taken a thoughtful and deliberate review of what went wrong and how we can prevent future incidents," Corbett said. "This bill fixes one of the problems: a poor and uncoordinated response to the disaster. SB 44 raises first response standards for natural gas operators so first responders can be as effective as possible."

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