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

Company documents show some pipe was reused during 1957 relocation

A gas-transmission line that runs through Palo Alto and Stanford University contains at least 22 feet of reused, salvaged pipe dating to 1947, according to PG&E documents.

California Public Utilities Commission lawyers blasted PG&E for its use of salvaged pipe in an Oct. 19 filing and accused the company of knowing about faulty seam welds dating to 1948.

The reuse of salvaged pipe has also come under scrutiny by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the San Bruno incident that killed eight people in September 2010.

The CPUC legal department said documents that show reuse of salvaged pipe "raise serious safety concerns both for the future and for past safety, including the causes of the San Bruno pipeline rupture.

"The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been unable to certify the provenance of the ruptured pipe, or whether any pups that made up the pipe had previously been used elsewhere in PG&E's system. Moreover, we believe that PG&E cannot accurately certify that no other re-used and/or deficient transmission pipe remains in service."

Four records document the movement of 24-inch pipe in Palo Alto/Stanford when a section was being relocated starting in 1957. But none indicate the disposition of more than 2,500 feet of salvaged pipe in addition to the 22 feet that was reused. The documents do not indicate if the relocated pipe is new or reused.

A Jan. 1, 1957, construction drawing indicates that Line 132, which was the gas main that exploded in San Bruno and runs down the peninsula, was relocated along Page Mill Road between Junipero Serra Boulevard and El Camino Real.

Transmission pipe measuring 2,598 feet and 24 inches in diameter was salvaged from the relocation job. Another 22 feet was salvaged and reused. Salvaged pipe is often "credited" toward the cost of a project, as shown on several PG&E documents.

A May 7, 1957, progress report noted that 3,300 feet of 24-inch steel transmission main was to be installed and 3,260 feet of steel main was to be removed. The job "facesheet" noted the 1947 pipe was salvaged, but there is no indication it was reconditioned or reused, PG&E said.

A June 7, 1957, gas-main assignment letter assigns the relocation job of 3,300 feet of 24-inch pipe on Page Mill, to General Construction and notes: "Material to be drawn from the local warehouse," but it does not indicate that the pipe was reconditioned, PG&E noted in its response to the attorneys.

A March 18, 1960, credit-acquisition form shows 2,485 feet of pipe taken from the Palo Alto-Stanford pipeline segment was reconditioned. "There is no indication the reconditioned pipe was reinstalled on this job," PG&E noted.

Regarding the 22 feet of reused pipe, PG&E wrote in its Oct. 20 response to the CPUC that the pipe in Palo Alto dates from 1947:

"Based on other documents, it appears the 22 feet of pipe was not considered new pipe and is still labeled as 1947 pipe. PG&E is hydro testing this section of pipe this year," the company wrote.

On Friday (Nov. 4) PG&E announced that crews performing hydro tests near Palo Alto found a leak that is estimated to be about one millimeter in diameter. It is not known yet if the leak is located in the reused portion of pipe.

The four-mile test area contains nearly 21,000 feet of 24-inch seamless pipe that was installed in 1947. About 2,700 feet has a seam weld and was installed in 1957, PG&E said.

The leak does not pose a threat to the public and crews will take several days to pinpoint its location and do repairs and tests, according to spokesman Brian Swanson.

PG&E released more than 80 pages of documents to the public on Oct. 20 regarding five gas-transmission lines in the Bay Area that have come under scrutiny since the San Bruno tragedy.

Most of the documents pertaining to salvaged and reused pipe show it was reused on Lines 131 and 132 near San Bruno and Morgan Hill in 1956.

The Morgan Hill pipe was removed from service in 1970, according to PG&E. Pipe dating to 1930 was salvaged and reused on Line 107 in Milpitas in 1956. It was hydro-tested in 1977, according to the records.

None of the seam welds that PG&E found to be faulty in 1948 were in Palo Alto or Stanford, according to the documents. Those welds, which were defined as "cracked," occurred in San Bruno, Millbrae and Burlingame, according to PG&E records.

PG&E in its reply to the CPUC said that the reused, salvaged pipe and the issues pertaining to the 1948 welds are not new to PG&E or the industry.

The documents it has made public are the same as those given to the CPUC, except that it has redacted the names and contact information of non-management employees and specific locations of critical infrastructure, such as valves, the company said.

Each of the documents PG&E gave to the CPUC attorneys came with an attached confidentiality claim. The attorneys are asking the CPUC to allow them to make documents they have discovered available to the public. The CPUC will hear the attorneys' request on Nov. 10.

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Like this comment
Posted by midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2011 at 11:27 am

Nice reporting. Thank you.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2011 at 11:44 am

Good job with this article!

Does anyone know when PG&E will finish work on Alma Street (between Colorado and El Dorado)? They began working a couple of months ago and it doesn't look like they will finish anytime soon.

It is extraordinarily loud and the workers have blocked driveways, part of the road and have almost caused several accidents.

Of course, I want them to get it right (and safely enough to relieve fears about the neighborhood blowing up ala San Bruno). However, they have released enormous amounts of natural gas that seeped into our open windows and nearly gagged us.

It would be nice if they could let us know when they will release some gas like that.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Get it done right, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs. We really do not want our neighborhood to blow up. And keep good records this time.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm

While people are focused on PG&E's management of gas pipe by the PUC, we all need to keep in mind that the PUC does not have any similar authority in Palo Alto. We are depended on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as the only oversight agency that has shown any interest in Palo Alto's gas line safety in the past.

Presumably the City Auditor has the authority to review the gas line safety, but there is no expertise in this group to do much more than audit sales tax receipts.

So .. while folks are looking at PG&E about their management, they should be asking: "Who is looking at the Palo Alto Utility?"

Like this comment
Posted by not a PeeGeenE fan
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I wouldn't be too sure the PUC is the be all and end all. We had problems with PG&E trying to retroactively charge us for old accounts that were closed in writing, and for which PG&E actually owed us money (but had avoided paying because of their bankruptcy). PG&E admitted their need to change the record came from a SOX audit. We kept writing and telling them that wasn't right and complained to the PUC, which basically took PG&E's word for what they were doing and did nothing at all.

Interesting that in our situation, too, they claimed not to have the records, but demanded payment for money no one owed them unless we gave them OUR paperwork.

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

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