Mountain View Voice

Opinion - September 24, 2010

PG&E must be more responsive

Mountain View residents who live in the Monta Loma, Stierlin Estates and Whisman neighborhoods have every reason to be concerned about the aging gas line that runs beneath their feet. It is a section of the same line that exploded Sept. 9 in San Bruno, leaving a terrifying trail of flattened homes and seven people dead.

Pacific Gas & Electric officials say a 31.9-mile segment of the 51.5-mile gas line has been identified as needing retrofitting as part of major capital improvement projects for 2012, but early this week the utility could not say which sections of the line need to be replaced. On Monday, the utility released a list of its 100 riskiest pipeline segments in the state, which did not include any portions in Mountain View.

In the meantime, residents are apparently going to have to accept the risk that a leak could result in another cataclysmic explosion. And since the San Bruno explosion, living around one of PG&E's 54-year-old gas lines has become worrisome, if not downright frightening.

Due to PG&E's reluctance to share detailed information about the exact location and condition of its major gas lines on the Peninsula, it is difficult for anyone to assess the risk of a leak and possible explosion somewhere in the system. More will be known when the cause of the San Bruno explosion has been made public, although it seems clear that many of PG&E's major gas lines lacked systematic maintenance.

Whatever the cause of the San Bruno explosion, PG&E faces a huge liability and will have to pay out millions of dollars in claims to the residents who lost their homes and all their possessions. And the damage awards will only increase if it is found that the utility was negligent by failing to inspect and maintain its pipelines.

City officials should do everything in their power to convince PG&E to immediately conduct the best possible risk assessment tests along all pipeline corridors in the city, and to continue the process periodically until the planned retrofit is completed, hopefully in 2012. It is unconscionable for PG&E to put so many Mountain View residents at risk just because they live near a gas pipeline.

It is PG&E's responsibility to properly maintain all its gas lines at all times, no matter what the cost. Somehow, the utility lost its commitment to making safety its highest priority. We can only hope that a San Bruno-type explosion never happens again.

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