Report on gas explosion sets new standard for safety criticism

A report from the National Transportation Safety Board on a natural gas pipeline explosion in the San Francisco area sets a new standard in regulator criticism of corporations. The report is likely to have an influence on expectations of safety performance in a wide range of industries in both the US and Canada. Extensive recommendations on environmental and public safety directed to both companies and governments and including much more than natural gas pipelines are included in the report.

The report, entitled Pacific Gas and Electric Company Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Rupture and Fire relates to an explosion which took place in San Bruno, CA, in September 2010. The pipeline rupture resulted in a fire that destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70. Eight people were killed, many were injured, and many more were evacuated from the area.

The NTSB report uses unusually strong language to criticize PG&E, a company with a usually decent environmental reputation that has been listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. The NTSB commented that PG&E’s pipeline integrity management program, which should have ensured the safety of the system, was deficient and ineffective because it -

  • Was based on incomplete and inaccurate pipeline information.
  • Did not consider the design and materials contribution to the risk of a pipeline failure.
  • Failed to consider the presence of previously identified welded seam cracks as part of its risk assessment.
  • Resulted in the selection of an examination method that could not detect welded seam defects.
  • Led to internal assessments of the program that were superficial and resulted in no improvements.

The NTSB report and an Executive Summary can be found at http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/reports.html

PG&E’s reponse is at http://www.pgecorp.com/corp_responsibility/reports/2010/index.html/san_bruno.jsp

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