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After 2010 Blast, PG&E Examines Pipes, Befriends Firefighters

The utility also showed off its "smart pigs," which will be used in the East Bay this week. PG&E says smart pigs couldn't be used on the line that exploded in San Bruno because the pipe, like many in the Bay Area, was older and of varying dimensions.

PG&E on Friday will examine 15 miles of gas pipe in the East Bay for corrosion, dents and more as part of the power company’s effort to scrutinize aging Bay Area pipes in the wake of 2010’s San Bruno explosion that killed eight and destroyed 35 homes.

On Monday in Milpitas, the power company announced the upcoming probe, a renewed partnership with the Milpitas Fire Department and increased efforts to examine miles of pipe around the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The scene of an emergency is not the place to exchange business cards,” said Milpitas Fire Chief Brian Sturdivant. “Hey, we’re in the Silicon Valley. This should be expected.”

Most of the PG&E’s natural gas for the Bay Area flows through the Milpitas terminal. That’s more than 10 million cubic feet in the summer and 20 million in the winter, said John Gillio, the terminal’s gas maintenance supervisor.

As a result, PG&E has stepped up training efforts with Milpitas Fire Department in case something should go devastatingly wrong.

The company also showed off its "pigs," magnetic, missle-like tools that can squeeze through a variety of pipe dimensions to search for corrosion, dents and more in the aging pipes. PG&E has been using them for about three years, said Jesus Soto, PG&E's senior vice president of gas transmission.

A 15-mile run from Fremont to San Lorenzo is planned this week.

"Along the pipeline system you need to be able to remove obstructions," Soto said. 

The problem, Soto said, is the pipes in the Bay Area are older and of varying dimensions. Therefore not all can accomodate the tools PG&E uses to check for problems.

Soto said he was hired in May to figure out how to examine a greater number of the company's aging pipes. Soto said he did not know the percentage of pipes in the Bay Area that can accomodate the tools.     

The announcements come after the 2010 San Bruno gas line explosion was blamed on weaknesses in a pipe that was installed in the 1950s and could not accomodate an increase in power on the line. 

Ken Ibarra July 10, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Smart pigs or not, the San Bruno pipes were simply not inspected. Enough said.
Bite Koch July 10, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Remember, the "smart pigs" can be programmed to be as sensitive or insensitive as PG&E chooses. The data can easily be manipulated.

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