Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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PG&E: Culture moves to safety

Utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric Company is transforming itself into a company with safety emerging as its clear cultural cornerstone, Nick Stavropoulos, executive vice president of gas operations, said yesterday.

He made the claim following the company’s completion of four recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board to strengthen its gas emergency response plans following the pipeline explosion and fire nearly two years ago that left eight San Bruno residents dead and 37 homes completely destroyed in the Glenview neighborhood.

“I’m very proud of how our employees have pursued the NTSB’s recommendations with vigor and urgency,” Stavropoulos wrote in a statement yesterday.

PG&E has now completed four of the safety actions recommended by the NTSB in response to the 2010 pipeline accident in San Bruno, according to a recent letter from the federal agency.

But local state lawmakers said the company still has much to do and has only tackled the “easy” recommendations.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said the company is doing the “little things” and has yet to take firm action on testing and replacing its aging pipe transmission lines.

“They certainly haven’t tackled the major, most significant recommendations,” Hill told the Daily Journal yesterday.

In the past year, pipeline explosions and fires in Cupertino and Roseville exposed a vulnerability to brittle, older plastic pipe. The NTSB had recommended that pipe’s replacement, but those recommendations were not heeded, Hill said.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, has crafted legislation that should ease PG&E’s effort to upgrade its pipelines called Assembly Bill 2564 that is currently on the governor’s desk.

“My husband is a firefighter and I always worry when he’s at work. So I applaud PG&E’s speed in completing the safety plans but know a lot still needs to be done to upgrade our aging system,” Ma wrote the Daily Journal in an email yesterday.

The three recently completed recommendations include:

• Emergency procedure: PG&E has established a comprehensive response procedure to large-scale emergencies on gas transmission pipelines. The procedure identifies a single person to assume command and specifies duties for all others involved; includes development and use of trouble-shooting protocol and checklists; and requires periodic tests or drills to show that the procedure can work.

• 911 notification: PG&E’s gas control room operators, who keep 24-hour watch of the utility’s transmission pipeline network, are now required to immediately notify the 911 call centers for the communities affected when a possible pipeline rupture is detected.

• Toxicological tests: PG&E has revised its post-accident toxicological testing to ensure it is timely and incorporates all potentially involved employees.

The utility completed the fourth recommendation as of spring 2012, after having conducted an intensive records search and having validated the maximum allowable operating pressure for its 2,088 miles of transmission pipelines in populated areas. The records meet the NTSB’s threshold for traceable, verifiable and complete, according to PG&E.

“The progress we’re making on these steps mirrors the transformation that’s happening within PG&E, with safety emerging as our clear cultural cornerstone. We want every employee and contractor to understand the importance of performing his or her job with the utmost attention to getting it right,” Stavropoulos wrote in the statement.

But Hill told the Daily Journal PG&E is responding because of recent legislation the state has passed.

“They are responding because they have to. It’s the law,” Hill said.

Without the legislation, “they wouldn’t do it,” Hill said about PG&E’s safety efforts.

San Francisco-based PG&E has 20,000 employees and serves 15 million residents in northern and central California.