Energy companies will need to keep up-to-date records to prove they are running the nation's aging pipelines at safe pressures under a new set of guidelines the federal government announced Monday in response to a deadly natural gas explosion in a San Francisco suburb.
If pipeline operators can't ensure their oil and gas lines are running at safe pressures by next year, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration underscored they could face penalties or some other type of sanction.
The advisory bulletin the administration issued Monday mentioned the September 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured many more and left 38 homes in smoking ruins.
The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the accident on multiple failures by one of the nation's largest natural gas companies, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., including shoddy records based on incomplete and inaccurate pipeline information.
PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer said Monday the company has undertaken a vigorous records review and verified that its transmission lines in urban areas are running at the right pressures.
"We continue to gather, scan and verify millions of records," he said.
Federal and state officials will be responsible for enforcing the new guidelines, pipeline safety agency spokeswoman Jeannie Layson said Monday. All companies will be required to keep traceable, verifiable and complete records about pipelines that ferry hazardous fuels through the nation's most populated areas.
In a later phase, PHMSA also will direct energy companies on what to do if they can't find records for all their pipelines, she added.
In the wake of the San Bruno explosion, California regulators ordered PG&E and other state utilities to drop the pressure on their pipelines and produce any records of pressure tests done to ensure pipelines did not threaten surrounding communities.
PG&E's computer records originally showed that the decades-old, high-pressure transmission line that blew was seamless. But company officials later acknowledged problems when the old paper records were incorporated into the utility's computer system.
PG&E ultimately rented a hulking concert venue where dozens of employees sorted through more than 1.25 million individual gas transmission records hauled out from branch offices and storage facilities to find the required records.
The California Public Utilities Commission is currently weighing whether the record-keeping lapses violated state and federal laws and contributed to the pipeline rupture.
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