News

Palo Alto 'proactive' in ensuring gas safety

Transmission pipes under Middlefield, other roads owned and maintained by PG&E, but city will report gas leaks immediately to company

Palo Alto residents concerned about the risk of a gas-line explosion similar to the one that devastated a neighborhood in San Bruno Thursday should be reassured, City of Palo Alto Utilities officials said Friday morning.

Although PG&E owns and maintains natural-gas transmission lines under Middlefield and other major Palo Alto roads, the city's utilities staff will immediately call PG&E when there is a report of the smell of gas involving its system, Linda Clerkson, communications manager to the city manager, said.

That would occur when anyone calls the city utilities' emergency dispatch, or when the city's utilities staff conducts its annual leak survey.

The department runs ongoing and proactive safety programs that include leak detection surveys, pipeline upgrades and replacements, pipeline corrosion control, 24/7 customer response, and promotion of gas-safety awareness and education to residents and businesses in Palo Alto, according to city officials.

During 2009, the department completed its annual walking survey to check for leaks of all 19,311 gas service lines in the City. An annual mobile survey of all 205 miles of city gas main pipes was also conducted, according to Greg Scoby, Palo Alto's engineering manager for water and gas.

The surveys found 75 main and 142 service leaks, all of which are already repaired or will be repaired within the timelines required by the federal Department of Transportation. Of the city's 23,502 installed gas meters, fewer than 2.5 percent needed to be leak-tested and repaired.

"The City of Palo Alto is the pre-eminent natural-gas utility in the country in replacing natural gas lines. As a proactive measure to provide safe service to homes and avoid ruptures in the system, CPAU replaces every gas line in the city in 34.5 years (6 miles per year of distribution and 600 service lines), well before the expected lifetime of any pipe," Scoby stated in a press release.

Palo Alto has been actively replacing its aging pipeline infrastructure for earthquake safety and is scheduled to rebuild its gas-transmission points in 2011, according to Clerkson.

To control the corrosion of steel pipelines, the city has cathodic protection, a procedure using electrical current that prevents corrosion on the line.

Corrosion of steel lines could lead to gas leaks. Utilities staff follow routes each month to check the steel system and to ensure that cathodic protection is working, Scoby said.

Currently, 69.2 miles of steel gas mains and 1,152 miles of steel gas services are protected.

The utilities department handled more than 7,000 service requests in 2009.

About 45 percent of these requests were regarding natural-gas issues, most of which concerned pilot light re-lights and new gas-meter installations.

Customer-service representatives, who handle more than 36,380 calls per year, are trained to answer natural-gas safety questions. Dispatchers are available 24 hours a day to respond to customers' safety concerns when they smell gas, the department said.

"If you smell a hint of natural gas, leave the premises and call the city's dispatch center at 650-329-2579, or if there is a significant smell of gas all around the area, leave the area on foot and call 9-1-1.

"Safety is everyone's responsibility. The City of Palo Alto is grateful both to its customers and employees for working together to make sure that we are all safe," Valerie Fong, utilities director, said.

More information on gas safety is available at www.cityofpaloalto.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=8059.

The department sends gas-safety information to customers multiple times each year and conducts an annual telephone survey to see whether customers understand what to do to stay safe around natural gas.

The most recent annual telephone survey, completed earlier this month, included a randomly selected statistical sample of about 7,500 customers, plus an equal number of non-customers for a total of about 15,000 calls.

The results from these annual surveys guide the development of natural-gas safety education programs for the upcoming year, according to Scoby.

For more information about safety programs at CPAU, visit the "Utilities Safety Information" link on the Utilities Department home page at www.cityofpaloalto.org/utilities.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Has anyone else walked past the gas line on Alma near Page Mill/Oregon Expressway?

There is a distinctive smell of gasoline there. It has been that way for a while...so I suppose that it might be "normal." However, after last night, it is enough to concern me.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm

> Palo Alto residents concerned about the risk of a gas-line explosion
> similar to the one that devastated a neighborhood in San Bruno
> Thursday should be reassured, City of Palo Alto Utilities officials
> said Friday morning.

The pau's customers should be "reassured" of what? Until there is a completed investigation into this event, how does anyone--be it customer or city of palo alto official--know whether, or not, a similar situation exists here in palo alto?


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Nayeli, call it in.

What concerns me is that many local residents had been smelling gas for weeks and had called. P G & E spokesperson said that those calls would be investigated. Does this mean that if we smell gas near near Middlefield, all PA utilities does is call P G & E? This does not bode well with me.


Like this comment
Posted by Reads like a press release
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 10, 2010 at 4:52 pm

This article reads like a CPAU press release, rather than original reporting by the Weekly. I have to wonder whether the Weekly has done anything to verify the CPAU claims about what it does, or looked into whether those are the appropriate and necessary steps to be taking.


Like this comment
Posted by Uncle Kracker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Are you kidding me? This city wouldn't be able to handle a complaint in time, everyone one should be extremely worried. Don't even light a match!


Like this comment
Posted by LocalSince94
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Yes to first post: I've past the gas lines on Alma at the Page Mill/Oregon Expressway overpass many times and smelled gas. I reported it again as recently as January of this year to PA Util reps working on Emerson and they said there was nothing they could do, that those pipes belong to PG&E and fixing them is low priority.


Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2010 at 11:19 pm

"The City of Palo Alto is the pre-eminent natural-gas utility in the country in replacing natural gas lines."

Bull......

Yep, years ago the City replaced the gas lines in my neighborhood, however, in my case they put the new plastic line on top of the water service and about 10" underground. I protested the safety violation to the contractor, who then produced a Palo Alto inspector who approved the install.

Later I presented photos of the install which depicted clear violations of the building code, so the City corrected the installation at a cost of $20,000 to the City (and they said the inspector "retired").

Bottom line, the City replaced the gas system in my neighborhood without any regard for building codes (the contractor was only concerned with how fast they could minimally do the work). I was able to recognize the screw up on my property, but to my knowledge, no one else paid attention.

I caution all my neighbors to dig carefully, the new plastic pipes do not follow any predicable path.


Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 11, 2010 at 6:22 am

No one should ever 'dig'in their yards without having utility services check for placement of lines. Plant a big tree? Call to get location cleared. Dig a trench? Call to get location cleared. Cardinal rule. We have no way of knowing where lines are placed. There are water lines, gas lines, cable lines, sewer lines and who knows what else underground and not very deep in some cases. They do not necessarily run straight from the access points near the front of our properties.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 11, 2010 at 6:58 am

> "The City of Palo Alto is the pre-eminent natural-gas utility
> in the country in replacing natural gas lines."

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of natural gas companies in the US. Unless someone has contracted all of these companies, and determined the yearly pipe replacement ratios, and the actually number of feet/miles of pipe replaced on a yearly basis by each of these companies, to insure the accuracy of this ratio, there is no way to know what companies are doing what.

If such a survey exists, then the pau employee making this claim should cite the source of this information.


Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Hi Resident and LocalSince94...

This is disturbing. I almost have to hold my breath when walking to Jerry Bowden Park or the underground walkway to California Avenue. During some days, the smell of the gasoline (or, perhaps, the gas itself) can give you a major headache.

After seeing what happened in San Bruno, this is somewhat disturbing. I live just down the road from that little gas building. I don't know where the lines actually run, but I would hate to be in the same situation as what happened in San Bruno.


Like this comment
Posted by Reluctant Siliconer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm

As the fire chief of San Bruno said on the local news last night, the correct number to call if you smell gas is 911, not PGandE, and not the city or city utilities. If anyone smells gas anywhere, please call 911 to report it, and the local fire department will go to the area you report to take gas readings immediately.

PGandE will not have the authority or impetus to evacuate potentially dangerous areas if necessary, but the fire departments will.


Like this comment
Posted by It take many noses
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 11, 2010 at 2:32 pm

We ALL have a responsibility to report dangerous conditions in our community. Please read the gas safety flyer: Web Link

Natural gas has a sulphurous rotten egg smell. Report ALL gas leak concerns to Palo Alto (24hr): 650-329-2579.

Keeping our Utility meter readers adds another way to catch gas leaks. Smart meters don't call in rotten egg smells!


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 11, 2010 at 3:10 pm

> Keeping our Utility meter readers adds another way to
> catch gas leaks. Smart meters don't call in rotten egg smells!

Another example of how backwards so many people are in this town.

The following link points to just one of many natural gas detectors which are now on the market for less than $50:

Web Link

There is no reason the utility department should not be putting these into people's homes, with some way to communicate with the 911 operator (wireless, telephone, etc.).

There is no reason that "smart meters" could hot have these inexpensive natural gas detectors included in the metering device.


Like this comment
Posted by Ken_r
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

If you go to Web Link and check the NPMS Public Map Viewer for Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties you can see for yourself that the same gas line that exploded in San Bruno goes through Stanford and Palo Alto residential areas. I would assume that at least some of the parallel lines were built about the same time. I would suggest that Palo Alto Online find someone who had access to detailed maps at Web Link and publish these for all to see. The detailed map for the San Bruno area shows the pipe line goes north on Glenview drive, makes a right turn on Plymouth Way and then a left turn on Claremont Dr. All three streets are narrow residential streets traversing the neighborhood. I suspect the same is true for Palo Alto and the high pressure gas line probably lies uncomfortably close to my house and maybe yours also.


Like this comment
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Here is a link to the California Department of Conservation's Energy Map of California that can be enlarged to show gas pipelines in Palo Alto, but does not show street names: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

PG%E says they are testing the pipelines on the Peninsula:

“A company filing shows the utility determined that stretch of pipe should be replaced given its location in a heavily urbanized area and because the risk of failure was "unacceptably high." The 30-inch diameter line installed in 1948 was slated to be swapped for new 24-inch pipe, according to the document.”
“PG&E workers have almost finished inspecting its three transmission lines that run through San Bruno and further south down the San Francisco peninsula, PG&E vice president Geisha Williams said.”
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by opus
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2010 at 10:03 pm

"Terry" the installation of the gas service line from the street to your house isn't required to meet any building codes and are only required to meet City of Palo Alto Utilities Standards. The gas service line from the street to the gas meter is property of the utilities dept. as well as responsibility for servicing the gas line. The fact that they replaced or reinstalled your gas service is a plus for you, I guess, as the standard allows 12" minimum burial so $20,000 to reinstall a gas service an extra 2" will just be tacked onto everybody's bill. For future reference, The utility dept. has their own utility inspectors and not everything on your property is required to be enforced by the building codes or the building dept.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 13, 2010 at 1:33 pm

> the installation of the gas service line from the street
> to your house isn't required to meet any building codes
> and are only required to meet City of Palo Alto Utilities
> Standards.

And where is this codified?

> The gas service line from the street to the gas meter is property
> of the utilities dept. as well as responsibility for servicing
> the gas line. The fact that they replaced or reinstalled your
> gas service is a plus for you, I guess, as the standard allows
> 12" minimum burial so $20,000 to reinstall a gas service an
> extra 2" will just be tacked onto everybody's bill.

And what would be the cost to the ratepayers (ie .. other people's bills) if there failure to bury this service line deeply enough resulted in an explosion/fire--burning down a home?

> For future reference, The utility dept. has their own
> utility inspectors and not everything on your property
> is required to be enforced by the building codes or
> the building dept.

And this is codified, where?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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