PG&E responds to Palo Alto's info request

City manager puts deadline on getting accurate maps of pipelines, PG&E operations details

PG&E officials have responded to Palo Alto City Manager James Keene's deadline of Thursday (Sept. 23) for accurate, detailed information on its gas mains running through the city.

Keene told the Weekly that PG&E officials called him early Wednesday afternoon to arrange a meeting on the subject.

He also objected to PG&E's misinformation about there being no PG&E pipelines in Palo Alto for the first two days after the deadly San Bruno explosion and fire.

Stanford University officials also are seeking information about why a section of gas main through the campus is on a "Top 100" list of high-risk lines.

In a letter dated Monday (Sept. 20), Keene asked for a current map so Palo Alto Utilities workers can inform customers where PG&E lines lie in relation to their properties.

The city requested the following information:

■ A current map with precise locations of all PG&E high-pressure gas lines and other natural-gas facilities in Palo Alto, to be mailed by Sept. 23.

■ Updated information on the condition of the city's PG&E natural gas facilities.

■ Whether there are any high-risk gas-transmission facilities related to public safety in Palo Alto and where they are located.

■ Age of the pipelines and facilities.

■ Size of the pipelines.

■ Pressure at which PG&E typically operated the facilities.

■ Whether PG&E has reduced the operating pressure recently. And what is the current operating pressure.

■ Scope and date of PG&E's most recent pipeline maintenance activities.

■ Frequency and nature of maintenance activities for all of PG&E natural-gas facilities in the city.

In his letter, Keene also expressed grave concerns about misinformation from PG&E regarding the existence of pipelines in the city:

"In the confusion following last week's tragedy, we were quite shocked that numerous PG&E employees ... provided erroneous information to our local news media about whether there are PG&E transmission lines in Palo Alto. Over a two-day period last week, PG&E employees stated that PG&E does not operate any high-pressure natural gas transmission lines in Palo Alto.

"This placed the city in a very difficult position with our community and with elected officials and the media. When PG&E did not promptly correct the misinformation, our own utility staff publicly confirmed that there are PG&E transmission lines in Palo Alto," he wrote.

Online maps from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration showing locations of pipelines, which were widely publicized by the media, were not up-to-date, based on information that city staff currently possesses, Keene said.

Stanford University officials similarly expressed concern Tuesday, following the disclosure that a 1-mile segment of PG&E pipeline along Junipero Serra Boulevard is on PG&E's "Top 100" list of segments with greatest potential risk.

Stanford has requested a meeting with PG&E officials, which was planned for late this week, Larry Gibbs, associate vice provost for environmental health and safety, told the Stanford Report on Tuesday.

A stretch of the 22-inch-diameter pipeline, Line 109, is at risk of corrosion, according to the PG&E report. Gibbs told the Stanford Report that PG&E monitors the pipeline both electronically and physically every two months.

"We will be working to better understand what work has been done on the pipeline, what will be done to ensure continued integrity of the pipeline and why the segments remain on PG&E's 'Top 100' list if no further action is contemplated at this time," he said.

Stanford has three pipelines on its land, buried about 4 feet deep, Gibbs noted. Lines 109 and 132 run down the Peninsula along Junipero Serra Boulevard and Interstate 280, and Line 203-01, a 10-inch pipeline, connects to Line 109 and runs along Campus Drive West to the Cardinal Cogeneration facility on campus.

Larger transmission lines such as Line 109 (22 inches in diameter) and Line 132 (24 inches in diameter) operate from 100 to 400 pounds of pressure per square inch, Palo Alto officials said.

Smaller pipes in the city distribute 25 pounds of pressure per square inch or less and are 2 to 12 inches in diameter, they said.

Palo Alto also has a 20-inch-diameter PG&E conduit laid roughly along U.S. Highway 101.

Palo Alto owns and operates its own natural-gas distribution system and receives gas from PG&E transmission stations at four points of interconnection.

PG&E has publicly denied that its Top 100 list represents projects that are priorities for replacement or upgrade for public-safety reasons.

PG&E immediately fixes any pipeline or facility deemed a public risk, President Christopher Johns said during a news conference Monday.

Some larger projects loom for the utility, however.

PG&E can't optimally assess what is going on inside some of its pipe; age and twists and turns in the segments have impeded inspections with high-tech scoping tools (called "pigging") that look for pits, corrosion and other anomalies, according to a 2011 gas-transmission rate-case report PG&E filed with the California Public Utilities Commission.

A 43.5-mile stretch of Line 109 and a 31.9-mile stretch of Line 132 -- which run through Palo Alto, Mountain View and Menlo Park -- are scheduled for retrofitting and segment-replacements in 2012 and 2013, according to the rate-case report.

PG&E plans to spend $13 million to retrofit and $1 million to repair Line 132 in 2012 and would conduct "pigging" in 2013; $12.6 million is planned for retrofits to Line 109 and $1 million for repairs, with "pigging "in 2014, according to the report.

Two sections comprising 33.8 miles of a third gas-transmission line, Line 101, are also scheduled for similar repairs in 2014 and inspection in 2015, according to the rate-case report.

The exact location of segments to be retrofitted has not been disclosed.

Related story:

Stanford gas line on 'Top 100' risk list

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Like this comment
Posted by robit noops.
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 21, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Seems like a paranoia witch hunt. The city of Palo Alto has screwed the pooch on so many issues, it's like the pot calling the kettle black.

San Bruno was a tragedy, but it was also a fluke.

Like this comment
Posted by Koa
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Keene is giving PG&E an ultimatum to provide this information by Thursday. Or what?

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Workers for the city told me that they are planning to repave Alma (which is in bad shape) next summer. Since a major PG&E transmission line apparently runs along a chunk of Alma, does that mean PG&E will be digging up Alma in 2012 or 2013 soon after Palo Alto repaves it? Last time they repaved it, I believe it was cable companies that dug it up not long after it was repaved.

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

If I were PG&E.....

"Thank you very much for your concerns Mr. Keene. We too share your concerns, particularly in lieu of the continuing DOT investigation of gas system worker test falsifications. To insure there are no gas system "accidents" in Palo Alto, we will cease natural gas transmission to Palo Alto immediately.

We will resume gas transmission once the DOT investigation is complete, and once Palo Alto has submitted acceptable responses to our questions regarding the qualification and work practices of your gas system workers (see attachment #1)"

One poster likened this situation to the old cliché "the pot calling the kettle black". Very true, and in that spirit let me propose another:

"Be careful what you ask for - you just might get it"

Like this comment
Posted by The_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Easy solution to the other comments: Revoke the PIGGIE'S license to do business in Palo Alto or charge a hefty tax on the PIGGIES use of right of way in the city, like BOULDER did for Xcel ( which isn't ).

THEN contract with WILLIAMS or some other pipeline operator to deliver PROPER PRICED natural gas to the city...

The same could apply to the electricity, the INTERMOUNTAIN TIE LINES could be used to get CHEAPER ENERGY to Palo Alto...with it's own COOP!

After all, CALPINE ( started in San Jose ) built out in CO, so turnabout would be fair play...

Like this comment
Posted by Orb
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm

It appears the Palo Alto City Manager is taking advantage of the PG&E San Bruno catastrophe to cover up the lack of knowledgable City Utilities Management/Leadership running city utilities with their untrained eyes wide open - in ALL divisions, water, gas, electric, and wastewater. Quite an impressive list of demands from Mr. Keene that should just about cover all the trouble spots within the current utlities department. Sounds like that list of demands should release Palo Alto too from future problems (heaven forbid anymore disasters)IF one arises because it will be "PG&E" fault, not us, they did it. Oh it's just the same old stuff previous utilities management satff have been fired over. The City of Palo Alto should already HAVE all the requested information. Posturing looks impressive by Mr. Keene especially when he has a public forum. Hope tax payers feel they are getting their monies worth.

And as far as confusion over paving a street only to be dug up to have a line replaced? Pa-lease folks. Why even have a system like that? Why not communicate, coordinate with outside agencies to maintain streets/sidewalks? It's not rocket science and apparently the $100K+ salaries are not enough for those creative juices to flow in a logical manner.

Outside Observer: Scary how soon people forget.

The Punisher: The experienced, trained, knowledgable field/office workers get it and can run the department. However they are being led by a group of unexperienced, untrained, unknowledgable management staff that only care about making more money for themselves, screw employees out of their money, AND screw the public in there too. That department HAS training funds and refuses to use them. The City no longer has a training program due to "budget woes' over the past 10 years. Way to go Palo Alto. Keep demanding all the info from PG&E when your management should already HAVE it if they did their jobs.

Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Agree with Orb

It is the responsibility of City utilities to maintain complete and detailed specifications of ALL utility infrastructure including PG&E, especially considering the impact of large gas lines.

To request information now is to admit failure in managing City Utilities.

Time to find some new folks who can run a utilities department.

Also I wonder how PG&E ever managed to bury a gas pipe in Palo Alto without a building permit.

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 22, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Too funny! Keene wants info or else! Or else what? Good job in covering up the still ongoing federal investigation into City of Palo Alto Gas Utilities forging documents and unqualified employees inspecting and installing gas service lines! Can't figure out if it's ignorance or stupidity in his news release? note* "Terry", the Bldg.Dept doesn't issue permits or inspect gas service lines installed in public right-of ways or from the street to your house,public works and utilities dept.inspects lines installed in the street and utilities dept. inspects lines installed from the street to your house.

Like this comment
Posted by Arch Conservative
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 22, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Has San Francisco moved lock,stock and barrel to Palo Alto. Sounds like something SF would do to try and cover their incompetence.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Sep 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

The city might also want to ask where the emergency shutoff valves are as well. One of the problems with San Bruno (at least as was reported was)
1) the shutoff valves were manual
2) were too close to the site to be accessed right away.

Like this comment
Posted by Amused
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Palo Alto has enough cases of incompetence under its belt, and that's in recent history, I thought it won First Prize in that category in the Bay Area. San Francisco has nothing on Palo Alto in incompetence. Only Bell could be worse. Maybe.

Like this comment
Posted by a resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2010 at 9:54 am

20 city managers in state paid over $300,000

For example, Palo Alto gave its city manager $1.5 million to buy a house. The city also gave the city manager a $500,000 loan;

it's now today!!!!
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 23, 2010 at 11:48 am

Sure is amazing that such an incompetent*, unqualified*, untrained* group of city workers could earn a national safety award for its natural gas system. But since they obviously don't know what they're doing*, it must have been just a whole bunch of dumb luck, right? Glad that you message board posters are giving us the true story about what's going on in the Utilities department, not getting whitewashed by the liberal media, etc, etc. Thanks, guys!
* According to message board experts

Web Link

Subject: City of Palo Alto Recognized for Gas System Safety

Palo Alto’s natural gas system employees were recognized recently by the American Public Gas Association (APGA) who presented the City with its 2009 National Safety Award. This award acknowledged the superior efforts by the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) employees to ensure the safety of the community and the integrity of the gas system in Palo Alto. APGA is the not-for-profit nationwide association for publicly- and community-owned gas utilities and represents over 700 members in 36 states.

(See above web link for more information.)

Like this comment
Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm

If you make such information public, criminals and terrorists may take advantage of it. How about blow up a gas line to attract police and firemen, and then take the money vault of a bank 2 miles away? Isn't that kind of stuff played on movies constantly? What the hell are these city officials thinking?

Like this comment
Posted by Utilities Supporter
a resident of University South
on Sep 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Requesting, and receiving today, a detailed briefing from PG&E seems totally reasonable to me, given that early PG&E statements seemed inaccurate to knowledgeable Palo Alto officials.

The fact that Palo Alto Utilities is among the most highly regarded municipal utilities in the nation does not square with the loaded criticisms advanced by some posters.

Our utilities have formed the foundation of a vital Palo Alto for over a century. To argue otherwise fails to recognize the big picture and all the important little details within it.

Like this comment
Posted by Jimmy
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Utilities Supporter you wreak of management speak. That is the kind of talk that gets Palo Alto most of those undeserved award winning kudos. Palo Alto should be ashamed. On second thought, they are probably shaking in their boots because of mismanagement of public funds running the Utilities Department. Mr. Keene's and others high salaries should be scrutinized and compared to real infrastructure work performed. Is Bell the Sister City to Palo Alto? Management styles are eerily similar. Palo Alto going after PG&E is a distraction for other more serious stuff going on there hiding in plain sight.

Like this comment
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Any old thing just gives all the whiners and pessimists their chance to complain about City employees' salaries, doesn't it? The article is on gas mains. The City has, if you've been following the stories, thousands of gas valves to shut down the system (according to the Utilities Director). They are all manual. There are even key valves designated to sut down certain sections. In the article today, it mentions the four receiving stations that connect PG&E lines to CPA's. Gee, I wonder if shutting those down would effectively kill the gas supply.....Time to use your heads, instead of using every excuse to air your personal agendas!

Gas explosions are rare occurences. It's not always because of negligence. One day a pipe is not leaking, and the next day it is. It happens that quickly. That's what noses are good for - to smell it when it happens, so IT CAN BE REPORTED. I still maintain that, if someone calls in an odor complaint, the City is quicker than PG&E to respond and repair - hence (perhaps) the safety award.

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 24, 2010 at 9:39 am

"Jim*" APGA is a political lobbying group that works for public utilities and is based in Washinton D.C. Part of the many tasks they claim to promote, reducing regulatory requirements is their main theme. Anyone can be a member of their organization for a fee and over 500 "safety" awards were issued in 2009 to public utilities who were paying members of their organization. Glad to hear the Palo Alto Utilities press release made citizens feel safe and lets hope the federal investigation of the gas utilities for forging documents brings necessary changes.

Like this comment
Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2010 at 11:37 am

Jim and utilities supporter, no thanks your kool-aide has already made me sick and most likely help kill others.. Look at what it did to you.

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

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