Pipeline Records Probably "Trashed"

By Chris Roberts
|  Sunday, Jul 24, 2011  |  Updated 7:46 AM PDT
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San Bruno Aftermath: a Look Back

NBC Bay Areas

The neighborhood scorched by the PG&E explosion is now an empty landscape.

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It's not that Pacific Gas and Electric Company doesn't know where records, drawings and other vital information pertaining to its pipeline system are. It doesn't know if they even still exist -- whether in a vault or in the trash.

The utility giant may have "s- canned" many vital documents, including pipeline safety records relating to the pipeline in San Bruno that exploded nearly a year ago, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which reviewed transcripts of an interview with former PG&E official Larry Medina.

Medina, now a records manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, managed the pipeline records for 10 years until he left PG&E in 1993. Upon his depature from the company, he warned in a memo that PG&E's shoddy record-keeping could cause problems in the future.

A faulty seam weld on a natural gas pipeline ruptured on Sept. 9, killing eight people and immolating 38 homes. PG&E's records recorded no weld on that pipe, calling it seamless.

A current PG&E manager told Medina last year that any records that the company couldn't readily identify would have been thrown out or otherwise discarded. The records were on the 10th floor of the company's office on Mission Street in San Francisco for a long time; where they've gone to now is unknown.

Did the company lose or destroy the documents? Who knows: PG&E declined to comment specifically on the missing documents.

Medina said he contacted company officials numerous times following the disaster in San Bruno but never received a response, prompting him to contact government officials and the media.

After this article was published, PG&E sent the following response:

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today issued the following statement from President Chris Johns regarding the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) updated reports on the San Bruno accident:

Since the tragedy in San Bruno, we have been focused on helping the community recover and improving our natural gas operations. We are taking whatever steps necessary to earn back the trust and confidence of our customers.

We want to thank the NTSB for its continued work to determine the cause of this accident. Identifying exactly what happened will help both PG&E and the industry take steps to see that an accident like the one in San Bruno never happens again. We will move quickly to review the NTSB’s updated reports and incorporate its findings into our improvement plans.

While we recognize we have a lot of work ahead of us, we are moving aggressively to improve the safety, quality and performance of our gas system, including:

Reducing pressure on some lines to provide a greater margin of safety

Conducting new pressure tests of key pipelines

Creating a separate operating unit for our gas operations under the leadership of a newly hired gas operations expert who brings 30 years of experience in improving some of the nation's oldest gas systems

Hired 3 experienced senior level gas engineers for key director level assignments

Hired 74 new gas engineers in a major nationwide recruiting effort

Implementing more stringent pipeline operating standards

Providing additional training to our gas operations employees

Beginning a major new initiative to replace or upgrade many older gas lines, add automatic or remote shut-off valves, and help develop state-of-the-art pipeline inspection technologies

Working with companies known for their operations safety expertise to help us implement and advance industry best practices

Improving our coordination and partnerships with local emergency responders and providing the public a new online tool to locate pipelines in their neighborhoods.
 

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