News

Natural gas line bursts, causing I-280 mudslide

Pacific Gas & Electric was testing 3-mile section of line between Menlo Park and Woodside

A natural gas pipeline that exploded during safety testing near Woodside Sunday afternoon (Nov. 6), causing a mudslide that shut down northbound Interstate Highway 280, had a pre-existing dent at the point where it ruptured, according to PG&E.

Pacific Gas & Electric was conducting hydrostatic pressure tests on a 3- mile section of the 24-inch transmission line between Menlo Park and Woodside at the time of the rupture, said utility spokesman Brian Swanson.

The tests involve emptying the pipe of gas and pumping water through at high pressure to check for any leaks or weak points.

The pipeline, Line 132, which runs from Milpitas to San Francisco, including through Palo Alto, is the same line that ruptured in San Bruno in October 2010, killing eight people and injuring many more. It normally operates at a pressure somewhere lower than 375 pounds per square inch but has been operating at a reduced pressure of less than 300 pounds per square inch, Swanson said.

"In order to help meet higher winter demands, we want to bring the pressure level back up to normal levels, around 375, but before we do that we need to ensure that the pipeline is safe," Swanson said.

Pressure in the pipeline had been raised to around 550 pounds per square inch at the time of Sunday's rupture, well above normal operating levels, he noted.

The rupture, which occurred around 3:20 p.m., was first reported as a large geyser of water that was getting cars wet on Interstate Highway 280 near Farm Hill Boulevard. A short time later an explosion was reported in the same area, along with a large volume of flowing water, according to Woodside Fire Battalion Chief Kevin Butler.

The rupture had caused a mudslide, sending mud, rocks and debris across the northbound lanes of the freeway. Several lanes on the freeway were closed by the slide, some for more than four hours.

There were no injuries, but one vehicle was damaged by pieces of dirt and rock, Butler said.

Fire crews located a 5 foot by 5 foot crater on the hillside east of the freeway, in an easement running behind a group of homes. The closest home was about 100 yards away, Butler said.

PG&E has tested around 120 miles of pipeline this year, Swanson said. Last week the utility found a 1 millimeter leak in Line 132 in Palo Alto, and last month a line ruptured in Bakersfield during testing. However, Sunday's rupture was far more disruptive.

"We'll definitely look into what happened today," Swanson said, noting that there were crews on the scene. "Obviously we don't want a hydrostatic test to disrupt traffic on 280 like it did today, and we will look at ways to minimize disruption."

PG&E will remain on the scene for several more days to make repairs and complete testing on the pipeline.

Related stories:

PG&E pipeline may have been damaged by backhoe

PG&E gas-main leak detected near Palo Alto

Part of PG&E gas main in Palo Alto is salvaged pipe

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by replace the whole thing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 7, 2011 at 8:30 am

How many "accidents" do they need to have with this pipeline before they realize the whole thing is unreliable and needs to be replaced?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

That Woodside leak causes me to wonder. If the test was water pressure only, there should have been no bursting. Bursting requires a compressible medium. A hydrostatic test usually requires first filling a pipe, then using a small displacement pump increasing the pressure until a leak happens, determined by a drop in pressure.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Old Town Paly Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:09 am

Will PG & E PLEASE PLEASE look at this line as a whole and get to testing and fixing it before another San Bruno takes place??!! Geez the pipe is from 1947....Heeelllllooooo?!! Upgrade Already!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Takes Money
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:52 am

To those who want the pipeline replaced (most ALL of us, I would think!), we have to remember that decommissioning the existing infrastructure and rebuilding will take massive amounts of money - which can only come from consumers. This would not be a moderate increase in bills - but a very major increase. How can we afford that? It's a no-brainer to ask for a safer system, but how to get there is not simple at all. We face this same dilemma with most of our infrastructure (bridges, electrical, telecom, etc.). It's old. And with the economy crumbling, there is no money to repair it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Takes money - why should the consumers bear the cost of PG&E years of negligence. The $$ should come from the shareholders and the cost should be born by PG&E.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Customers-Pay-For-Every-Eventuallything
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm

> Takes money - why should the consumers bear the cost of PG&E years
> of negligence.

And how would anyone in Palo Alto, who are not PG&E customers, know anything about the details of the maintenance of the entire PG&E transmission line?

> The $$ should come from the shareholders and the cost
> should be born by PG&E.

Really? Why? If you really believe that, why should PG&E not be required to provide free gas to everyone in the state, paid for by the shareholders?

It's astounding that people claiming to be the "smartest in the world" keep coming up with such crazy ideas.

Anyone remember that it was only 10 years ago that PG&E declared bankruptcy with $9B in debts:

Web Link

It costs money for everything. It's a shame that so many socialists have managed to call Palo Alto a home.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by replace the whole thing
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm

What would cost more, replacing the pipeline or replacing the San Bruno neighborhood that burned down? How many more neighborhoods will need to burn down until replacing the pipeline becomes "profitable"?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm

"How many more neighborhoods will need to burn down until replacing the pipeline becomes "profitable"?"

You can be sure somebody at PG&E has worked that out.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"The $$ should come from the shareholders and the cost should be born by PG&E."
O.K. I'll pitch in my $1.24 a year.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by reader
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Sixty-year-old infrastructure is not necessarily bad infrastructure. Plenty of buildings last longer than that with some remodeling every once in awhile. How old is too old? You can't replace the pipeline every year. We also hope that infrastructure lasts well after their bonds/ other financing mechanisms have been paid off. It seems that the trouble is the lack of testing and paying attention to whether a particular design has since been found faulty, not necessarily that the pipes were placed 64 years ago or whether they were salvaged.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by rockjock
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 8, 2011 at 6:09 am

Clearly fracking wells is the cause!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Davey-o
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 8, 2011 at 10:11 pm

"The $$ should come from the shareholders and the cost should be born by PG&E."

Yes. That is correct. These lines (their infrastructure) should, by PUC agreement with past structured rate increases, have been being maintained all along. Past money not spent maintaining (testing, certifying and when necessary repairing or replacing parts or whole portions of the system) became increased profit.

Now that it is clear this has not been the case at all, it rightly should be paid for from current profits.

Cost TOO Much? Let them borrow or issue bonds to fund the work; there are lots of ways corporations can fund needed investment. BUT, it should be on their dime, not mine when past profits were inflated by not performing maintenance all along. And I say this as a stakeholder in P,G & E.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm

What if the pipeline was damaged by a careless contractor who struck it with a backhoe, as may well be the case here? Should PG&E still bear the full costs?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Davey-o
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 9, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Donald,

If they have irrefutable proof of damage by a backhoe, then that person(s) should bear the cost. Otherwise, it's on them. They could have easily had a worker there during 3rd party work, or inspected the area before and after 3rd party work. Just like a rental car contract.

If the public continues to bear all these costs, then P,G & E would have ABSOLUTELY no reason to do ANY system maintenance or supervision of subcontractors & 3rd party work. That is exactly where we are now; because the public has had to bear all costs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by piggy
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm

"Palo Alto pipe that sprung leak had been eaten away, PG&E says"
Story in the Mercury-News: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by piggy
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm

"Corrosion on failed PG&E pipeline in Palo Alto"
Story in the Chronicle: Web Link


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