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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Environment & Forest Defense
SB 1371 The Methane Leakage Abatement Workforce Act
Since 1992, there have been 5,643 explosions that have resulted in fatalities, hospitalization, at least $50,000 in property damage, excessive release of liquids in the environment or unintentional fire or explosion, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). They calculate that these incidents have cost 373 human lives, and more than $6 billion in property damage over the last 20 years. And where there are gas pipelines - gathering lines at the well, transport, delivery, and the supply lines at the hookup for the customer - there are fugitive methane emissions.
Methane Leakage Abatement Workforce Act SB 1371
Natural Gas Pipelines – Known Issues
2) Fugitive Methane Emissions
“A pipeline explosion on Sept. 9, 2010, killed eight people in San Bruno’s Crestmoor neighborhood, destroyed 38 homes, and ignited a fireball that burned for nearly an hour. The investigations that followed laid bare decades of contemptible disregard for safety by PG&E, which enjoys a near monopoly on electricity and residential natural-gas sales in much of Northern California. The gas pipeline had been fabricated in 1956 using substandard materials, and it had not been properly inspected or maintained in the decades since. It tore open along a poorly welded seam and exploded beneath homes in the early evening after pressure levels spiked following a control room power outage.”
From a CPUC press release (pdf)
“Federal and state regulators investigating the 2010 San Bruno blast determined that inadequate quality controls, deficient management and a corporate culture that emphasized profits over safety caused the San Bruno accident, which has cost PG&E’s shareholders $1.4 billion in mandated safety work and other expenses.”
“The explosion created a crater about 72 feet (21.9 meters) long by 26 feet wide, completely destroyed 38 homes and damaged another 70. Eight people were killed and 66 injured.”
“The explosion precipitated the retirement of former PG&E chairman and chief executive officer Peter Darbee and forced the company to freeze its dividend. A $2.25 billion penalty for the explosion proposed by California regulatory staff could force the company into bankruptcy, PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony Earley has said.” March 14, 2014
Since the San Bruno accident, PG&E has replaced 127 miles of pipeline in its system, retrofitted 268 miles more to allow for in-line inspections and opened a “state-of-the-art” gas control center, the company said. The system has 6,750 miles of gas transmission pipe. April 2, 2014
See also the in-depth Bloomberg post: “PG&E was charged in a grand jury indictment filed yesterday in federal court in San Francisco with knowingly and willfully violating the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act by failing to test and assess unstable pipelines to determine whether they could fail. The company was also charged with keeping incomplete and inaccurate records about the pipeline that exploded.”
The National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, DC, determined that six decades of deficient PG&E pipeline management practices, it's poor-quality pipeline and poorly planned electrical work were the "probable causes" of the San Bruno pipeline explosion.
To recap, “the five members of the National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously that PG&E's deficient pipeline management system - from the 1950s until the present time - was the "probable cause" of the Sept. 9, 2010 San Bruno pipeline disaster, which killed eight people. Deficient oversight by state and federal regulators were "contributing causes," the board ruled. PG&E's response to the disaster and its lack of emergency preparedness increased the severity of the accident, the board ruled. The quality of PG&E's pipeline and poorly planned electrical work that led to a power outage leading to a pressure spike were also ruled probable causes - these were both stated as consequences of PG&E's safety management systems.”
But as these things go, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pleaded not guilty on Apr. 21, 2014 to a dozen felony charges stemming from 'alleged' safety violations in a deadly 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that leveled a suburban neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay Area. “U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero noted prosecutors' request to increase the maximum fine PG&E could face to more than $6 million, if the court decides the company somehow benefited financially or saved money as a result of criminal misconduct.”
San Bruno city officials hailed the development as a positive step and said they believed company officials should be charged as well. "We look forward to PG&E being fined the maximum amount allowed by law to send a message not only to that corporation but to the industry," San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson said. "Individuals within the corporation certainly had responsibility for making decisions ... that led to the disaster in San Bruno."
An average of 280 pipeline explosions occur in the U.S. each year.
“Pipeline explosions in the United States occur at an alarming rate of three incidents every four days. Many of these are considered lower-level accidents that happen with great frequency within the oil and gas industry. Although lower-level, the pipeline industry calls these significant pipeline incidents as many destroy property, cause injury and even result in death. Since 1992, there have been 5,643 explosions that have resulted in fatalities, hospitalization, at least $50,000 in property damage, excessive release of liquids in the environment or unintentional fire or explosion, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). They calculate that these incidents have cost 373 human lives, and more than $6 billion in property damage over the last 20 years.”
“Around 14 percent of these are due to impact from someone excavating unknowingly into a buried pipeline. Non-profit investigative news organization ProPublica, recently found that only 7 percent of natural gas lines and 44 percent of hazardous liquid lines are regularly inspected or subject to the PHMSA’s thorough inspection criteria. Many of these pipelines have significant corrosion and are leaking, and need to be repaired.”
In 2011, California lawmakers passed a series of natural gas pipeline safety measures. Among those measures signed by Brown were two PG&E-backed pipeline safety measures (SB 44 and SB 216) that strengthen the CPUC oversight of intrastate gas pipelines in accordance with stepped-up federal regulations.
Two other bills (AB 56 and SB 705) signed into law dealt with pipeline integrity, maintenance and record-keeping of operations at different levels of detail. Most of these are areas of concern on which the CPUC has mandated stepped-up work by PG&E and the state's other intrastate pipeline operators, principally Sempra Energy's two utilities, Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric Co.
Also signed into law in 2011, SB 879 raises the maximum penalty from $20,000 to $50,000 for violating requirements for the utilities' pipeline maintenance and safety programs. Under SB 44 the CPUC is mandated to hold a statewide proceeding to establish upgraded emergency response standards for pipeline operators. SB 216 requires pipeline operators to install automatic shutoff or remote-control sectionalized block valves in high-consequence areas and areas of active earthquake faults.
SoCalGas Natural Gas Pipelines In Los Angeles
Useful here is this map of the Los Angeles portion of the Southern California Gas Company's service area, that in total spans most of the state's southern third and covers some 20,000 square miles.
Fugitive Methane Emissions
“Currently a proposed law is making its way through the Legislature with bipartisan support. Senate Bill 1371, authored by Sen. Mark Leno, would require utilities such as PG&E and Southern California Gas Co. to find and fix natural gas pipes that are leaking – even if there’s no immediate public safety danger. Utilities can and should be prioritizing the biggest leaks, fixing the ones that are the most cost-effective and environmentally beneficial. They should also be tracking their system-wide leak rates over time and making sure there is an adequate work force to fix leaks when they are discovered.”
SB 1371 would require these measures.
According to Leno’s office, SB 1371 requires the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to open a proceeding to produce a set of rules to “reduce pipeline emissions of natural gas to the greatest extent technically feasible.”
The UWUA, whose Locals 132, 483 and 522 represent some 5,000 members at Southern California Gas Company, is sponsoring the bill. It has also gained support from the California State AFLCIO, BlueGreen Alliance, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and Union of Concerned Scientists. The interest of the environmental organizations stems from their recognition that “any net climate change benefit from the use of natural gas is reversed if methane emissions are not curtailed.”
California has more than 100,000 miles of natural gas pipes running throughout the state. There's a lot work out there.
Support SB 1371, it's working class green.