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SoCal gas line safety questioned by council

September 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Los Angeles city officials are looking at a frightening report. It says the pipeline in the San Bruno disaster was not even considered "high risk." The report says there are other much more dangerous natural gas pipelines. L.A. City Hall officials are asking: "Are we ready for that kind of emergency here?"The Los Angeles City Council is using the San Bruno explosion as a reason to focus on local safety. They questioned officials who are responsible for preventing a natural gas explosion, as well as those who respond to one.

But they are also demanding a detailed report that will spell out every step that is being taken right now to make sure a San Bruno-like blast wouldn't happen here.

When the natural gas pipeline in Northern California exploded earlier this month, the blast may have been limited to just San Bruno, but the concern it generated is still making waves throughout the state.

"San Bruno is a wakeup call for all of us," said L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. "My God, what happened there was unbelievable. We don't want it to happen here."

For an hour and a half Tuesday morning, the L.A. City Council grilled a collection of city and state emergency management officials, a Southern Californian Gas Company executive and state regulators about the safety of natural gas pipelines that run underneath Southern California.

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) member Raffy Stepanian explained how the state depends on the gas companies to make sure their systems are safe.

"They do their own pipelines inspections like leak surveys, cathartic protection valves, all of that, and we audit them and we conduct random inspections of their system to ensure that they are doing their own inspections and also that they are complying with their requirements," said Stepanian.

But the Public Utilities Commission has just 10 workers, Stepanian says, to do those random inspections throughout the whole state.

Tuesday's questioning helps give city leaders a clearer picture of the safety measures already in place to help prevent a deadly San Bruno-like blast. But the council says it also sends a message to Southern California gas officials to make sure they're taking all the necessary steps as well.

"We are going to hold them accountable right now before something, God forbid, happens here," said Rosendahl.

Rosendahl gave the gas company and local emergency officials a month and a half to put together a comprehensive report detailing the compliance records and response plans should a natural gas pipeline rupture and burn within the city.

"We want that report back in 45 days to the Public Safety Committee to let us know the status of their plant under our city, and the corrosion potentials, or some of the potential 'what ifs,' so we have a better comfort level," said Rosendahl.

The gas company assured council members that first-responders have access to mapping systems that spell out where the pipelines are, but citizens generally are in the dark when it comes to any pipelines that may be running through their neighborhoods.


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