Oh, Shucks! PUC Forced to Cancel Long-Delayed Federal-Ordered Audit of Its Own Oversight Shortcomings

Monday, November 05, 2012

After a gas pipeline in San Bruno, California, exploded in flames, killing eight people and leveling a neighborhood, a federal investigation laid the blame at the feet of pipeline owner Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) but included lax state oversight as a contributing factor.

In a September 2011 report, the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) cited pipeline testing exemptions from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and “failure to detect the inadequacies of PG&E's pipeline integrity management program.”

Among its recommendations, the federal board insisted that the CPUC “conduct a comprehensive audit of all aspects of Pacific Gas and Electric Company operations, including control room operations, emergency planning, record-keeping, performance-based risk and integrity management programs, and public awareness programs.”

The state utilities commission responded by taking nearly a year to finally pick a firm to conduct the review, but in September, a month after NewPoint Group Inc began its work, the company was bought by Crowe Horwath LLP and the CPUC announced it would have to select a replacement.

That could take another six months, it said.

The NTSB seemed to foreshadow a lack of earnest investigatory action by the CPUC when it wrote in a September 2010 report that the commission’s “culture serves as an impediment to effective regulation.” It also said that the CPUC didn’t have the resources or “organizational focus” to properly regulate the utility.

The NTSB’s own preliminary investigation noted that PG&E had installed a flawed pipeline in San Bruno in 1956 and then failed to properly inspect it afterward.

“For government to do its job—safeguard the public—it cannot trust alone, it must verify through effective oversight,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said last year. “As we saw in San Bruno, when the approach to safety is lax, the consequences can be deadly.”  

–Ken Broder

 

To Learn More:

Post-San Bruno Blast Audit Back on Hold (by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle)

NTSB Cites Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Government Oversight in Fatal California Pipeline Rupture (National Transportation and Safety Board)

Pacific Gas and Electric Company Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Rupture and Fire (National Transportation and Safety Board)

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