PG&E to investigate gas odor at Oregon, Alma

Residents, passersby have complained of gas or gasoline odor at Oregon and Alma Street

PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said Sunday night that the company "will certainly" look into a gas smell residents and passersby have reported in the vicinity of Oregon Expressway and Alma Street.

Smith said he was passing the information on immediately Sunday night following a query by the Weekly. He stressed that people should report any gas smell immediately. Smith said he could not specify where gas mains in Palo Alto are located, or their size, for security reasons.

Palo Alto residents have been complaining to the City of Palo Alto about a gas-like odor at Oregon and Alma since January, some posters on the Town Square forum at are saying.

Prompted by a press release in which the city claimed it is "proactive" in checking for leaks, some posters on Town Square said they have smelled gas and in some cases reported their concerns to the city's Utilities Department.

One poster said they reported the odor in January to a city crew working on Emerson Street but were told the crew could not do anything because the gas lines belonged to PG&E.

"Fixing them is a low priority," the poster said he or she was told.

Some residents described the odor as gasoline-like.

"I have to hold my breath walking to Jerry Bowden Park or underground to California Avenue," another poster wrote.

Smith said some of the company's lines have rupture-control valves and the 24-hour control center has the ability to shut down some lines.

PG&E also has on some lines automatic over-pressure-protection-control valves that protect pipelines from exceeding their maximum optimal pressure, he said. But he could not specify which, if any, of Palo Alto's lines are protected, also citing security reasons.

Smith did not immediately know the age of Palo Alto's pipeline.

Related stories:

Palo Alto 'proactive' in ensuring gas safety

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Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2010 at 5:35 am

> One poster said they reported the odor in January to a city crew
> working on Emerson Street but were told the crew could not do
> anything because the gas lines belonged to PG&E.

While this is just hearsay, given the self-serving press release of the Utility that was reprinted to look like a news article on this blog recently, one might have believed that the crews could have called in the situation to the 911 emergency dispatcher, and asked them to have PG&E contacted.

Given the level of bureaucracy in this small town's government, people need to be prepared to take the time to call PG&E themselves than depend on the PAU. Better to spend a few minutes looking up the PG&E telephone number and dealing with them, rather than the do-nothings at the PAU and find out down the line that nobody actually called PG&E.

Like this comment
Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 13, 2010 at 7:59 am

Anyone can locate the gas transmission pipes using Web Link

In Palo Alto the lines run on Middlefield, Charleston, Page Mill. In Midtown the line appears to leave Middlefield after Meadow and head west to Alma near Loma Verde.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 13, 2010 at 10:56 am

Just my one experience but about 2 years ago I smelled gas - just a faint whiff in front of my neighbors house. I talked to the neighbor to be sure it wasn't coming from his house but it seemed to be coming from the street in front. We called the utilities at about 9pm (it was after dark). They came immediately, he had a "sniffer", is small machine that could detect gas. We had a hard time smelling it but eventually found a small leak. They dug it and fixed the pipe up that night.

A year later they replaced all the gas pipes on my street. You can't ask for much better than that.

Like this comment
Posted by Susan
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 13, 2010 at 11:33 am

Why are there PG&E lines in Palo Alto if Palo Alto Utilities provides our gas?

Like this comment
Posted by Fairmeadow Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 13, 2010 at 11:34 am

I agree that Palo Alto City has been very pro-active about maintaining local gas lines, and have had good experiences with the city fixing broken gas lines on our street...
I am a bit worried though about PGandE.
If PGandE lines run under Palo Alto, I hope the Palo Alto City leaders can insist that PGandE inspect and maintain ALL gas lines passing through Palo Alto..
Does the technology exist to retro-fit pipelines that run under populated areas with electronic leak detectors or to install electronic methane detectors at periodic intervals along the pipeline to warn the utility, first responders and residents when a gas leak occurs? I am not sure if this would have prevented the San Bruno tragedy but perhaps it is something to think about.

About the Oregon and Alma area. I remember four years ago walking north on Alma at the bridge over Oregon Expsy. I distinctly remember the odor of natural gas permeating from the area around the sidewalk where Alma passes over Oregon..I am sorry to hear that the odor can still be detected..

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2010 at 11:40 am

I had a situation with a large "drum" dumped in the middle of the night on the side of my house. I alerted a city worker who happened to be working on my street that morning and he suggested calling the fire department for faster results.

He was right! The Fire Department came to my home immediately, called in the hazmat team and after checking it out with their meters etc. proceeded to open the drum which was filled with oil.

Had this been hazardous waste (toxic) they were prepared to deal with it. Even though it was a long process both departments worked together and took care of the situation. They hauled the drum away and disposed of it properly.

Calling the Fire Department in an emergency will at least get the ball rolling as they have the ability to call in appropriate agencies without getting the run around.

Like this comment
Posted by Fairmeadow Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 13, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Hi Susan,
Good question.
According to US Dept of Transportation (see weblink posted by Train Neighbor), PG and E is the operator of some gas lines in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

The easy answer is that PGE lines run through PA to get to Los Altos, Mountain View and beyond.

Same reason why the Hetch-Hetchy water main runs through PA down to LA and MVw.

Like this comment
Posted by Moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I, too, thought it would be appropriate to notify the fire department. Daresay they wouldn't postpone action on a possible gas leak.

P.S. I believe that natural gas is odorless, and that an additive is the most obvious sign of a leak.

Like this comment
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2010 at 6:16 pm

The PG&E lines in PA are transmission lines that connect to Palo Alto's smaller distribution lines at various stations. There is usually some gas odor from the regulators at these stations, but not a "gasoline" odor. The safest thing to do, if you smell gas, is to call the City right away, and they will send a standby person out, if it's after hours. The fire dept. usually only determines whether there's an odor and calls someone from utilities to verify aqnd/or repair. The City has always been good about reacting quickly to reports of gas odors, inside or out. And, yes - natural gas is odorless, and PG&E adds the odorant to make it easier to detect. Don't wait to call if you smell gas!

Like this comment
Posted by Helen
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 13, 2010 at 7:06 pm

It's disingenuous, to put it mildly, of Jeff Smith (PG&E) to say he can't divulge the location of gas mains for "security reasons", when the information is publicly available online! Google "National Pipeline Mapping System".

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2010 at 7:39 am


Perhaps he meant to say that it is inconvenient for PG&E if people realize that the same transmission pipeline runs right down Middlefield.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2010 at 4:51 pm

The PGE transmission line that goes up the Peninsula (and presumably supplied the San Bruno fire) goes up Middlefield, jogs through PA neighborhoods, and splits near Oregon and Alma. One branch crosses Oregon then continues up Middlefield and the other branch goes out Page Mill and up along 280 to SF.

Why not shut down the lines that jog through Palo Alto neighborhoods and route the lines along major thoroughfares such as 101 or 280?

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

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