PG&E says it is detecting and responding to gas leaks faster than ever before, thanks to some high-tech tools it has recently rolled out. But some say the claims are more about public relations than public safety.
Customers and store employees at the Willows Shopping Center in Concord had to evacuate Monday afternoon after a construction crew's backhoe hit a gas line, sending potentially dangerous fumes into the air.
It's precisely the kind of incident PG&E is monitoring from its state-of-the art control center in San Ramon, where gas system operators and transmission coordinators can monitor emergency situations in real time and deploy crews quickly.
“Our response time is approximately 21 minutes from the time we get a call to the time we have someone on site and making the system safe,” said Mel Christopher, PG&E gas operations director.
PG&E has also rolled out its high-tech car mounted leak detection system. Six SUVs equipped with highly sensitive sensors are now cruising neighborhoods looking for gas leaks.
“It covers an area very quickly,” said Steve Redding, PG&E leak management director. “We're fixing more leaks, and fixing them faster than ever before, and it's great.”
PG&E says the improvements are all aimed at preventing another deadly San Bruno-type incident.
“The main lesson from San Bruno, the most important lesson from the tragic accident: safety has to come first,” PG&E’s Debbie Felix said. “It is the first thing we think of when we wake up. It is our top priority.”
But at least one consumer group doesn't buy it. The director of the he Utility Reform Network says "PG&E does a much better job of polishing their image than they do complying with pipeline safety rules."