PG&E and Palo Alto Utilities Department officials appeared to be playing out their own version of "What's My Line?" with the city's natural-gas pipelines Monday.
First, PG&E spokespersons denied having any gas-transmission mains in the city.
But Palo Alto officials said a leak fixed Sunday night and a previous leak in January, at Oregon Expressway and Alma Street, were PG&E's responsibility.
The discrepancy came at a time when PG&E is testing all of its lines in the state for leaks following the Thursday-evening explosion and fire in San Bruno of a 30-inch gas-transmission line that killed at least four people, injured others and destroyed several dozen homes.
On Sunday, the Weekly asked PG&E about resident complaints of a gas-like odor near Oregon and Alma. Residents on the Town Square forum on www.PaloAltoOnline.com wrote that they smelled gas in the area. One resident said there was a gas smell in the same location in January and was told by city utilities employees that the pipeline was owned by PG&E.
Sunday night, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said the company would investigate, but in a subsequent e-mail denied that PG&E had any responsibility.
"PG&E does not serve Palo Alto," he said in a 2:46 a.m. e-mail Monday (Sept. 13).
In a follow-up query to PG&E later Monday morning to verify if a gas leak had been located and repaired, Katie Romans, another PG&E spokesperson, said any repairs are the City of Palo Alto's responsibility. She also denied that PG&E has any gas-transmission lines in Palo Alto.
But Palo Alto city officials insisted they reported a gas leak to PG&E at that location in January and again reported the gas leak on PG&E-owned pipe on Sunday night.
Linda Clerkson, Palo Alto's communications manager, said there are definitely PG&E pipelines running under Palo Alto. She was explicit:
"On Sunday, a City of Palo Alto Utilities employee responded to complaints of gas smells at the Alma Page Mill/Oregon Expressway location and identified a small (non-emergency) leak on PG&E's facilities at the gas receiving station. PG&E responded quickly to a call to check their facilities and repaired the gas leak. The repair was verified by the city employee.
"At the City's request, PG&E checked all four of its gas receiving stations serving the City of Palo Alto and found no other leaks," Clerksontold the Weekly via e-mail.
She said the city has received one gas-odor complaint in the Alma/Oregon area, on Sunday, Jan. 24.
"We investigated it that day and found a very low level gas leak reading on PG&E's line. Per city Gas Operations protocol, PG&E was informed of the leak," she said.
PG&E was asked by the Weekly last Friday to confirm a series of natural-gas transmission lines noted on a Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration website, the National Pipeline Mapping System. An energy map by the California Department of Conservation also shows three lines running in the same approximate configuration.
Three pipelines run in north-south corridors and two lines run east to west, according to the maps.
By late Monday afternoon, PG&E informed the Weekly that it does indeed have gas mains running through the city, but that PG&E could not comment on the lines for security reasons.
PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles apologized for the confusion, explaining that they had rushed in an effort to answer questions. He confirmed that PG&E does have transmission lines running through Palo Alto, which serve pipe gas to the distribution system operated by the city, he said. He declined to answer questions about pipe diameter or age, also citing security reasons.
Boyles said he cannot comment on whether the transmission lines are similar to the one in San Bruno, but he said they are typically the larger-diameter lines. Previously, PG&E has described such lines as being 24 to 30 inches in diameter.
PG&E has reduced the pressure in all of its gas lines by 10 percent as an additional safety precaution as the company works through testing the system, but the reduced pressure will not affect customers, he said.