Sep 15 2010

San Bruno Explosion

Massive Pipeline Explosion Again Puts Gas Industry In Spotlight

‘It looked like hell on earth,’ Resident says

Folks in Jersey City Take Note in Their Opposition to

Spectra Energy’s Proposed Pipeline

Nationwide, every community dealing with gas pipelines – and proposed gas pipelines – got a reminder of the risk involved when a 30-inch gas transmission pipeline ruptured and exploded in San Bruno, California, about 12 miles south of San Francisco.

According to news reports, the current death toll is 4, with 52 injured plus 38 homes destroyed, and 120 homes seriously damaged.  The resulting fire from the explosion spread across 15 acres.

The 30-inch steel transmission pipeline is owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).  The cause of the rupture and the ignition source are currently under investigation.

‘Hell on Earth’

One resident said, “It looked like hell on earth,” according to a summary by Lauren Frayer in AOL News. (Links to this and several other news reports are found below under Links & Resources.)

The AOL News report captured what happens in a pipeline explosion:

Contra Costa Fire Battalion Chief Dave George said heat radiating off the fire was more than 1,200 degrees — hot enough to burn a couch inside a brick home through the window.

“What makes this fire so devastating and so difficult is essentially it creates the equivalent of an eight-alarm fire in the heart of a residential neighborhood,” George told the Mercury News. “It behaves differently than most other fires because it grows in all directions at the same time. Whatever it wants to do, it does.”

“Huge Gas Explosion Kills 4, Levels Homes in California

AOL News, September 10, 2010

Most news accounts said residents reported the smell of gas to PG&E weeks before the explosion.  PG&E President Chris Johns is quoted as saying the company has not confirmed that it received any complaints but is reviewing its files.

Lessons from San Bruno

The impact of the San Bruno pipeline explosion can be felt across the country.

Folks in Jersey City have launched a massive campaign in opposition to a proposed gas pipeline through their city.  See two previous posts on this:

Jersey City

Spectra Butter Job

A source familiar with the gas industry told this blog that the ruptured pipeline in California was a 30-inch gas transmission pipeline.  Spectra Energy’s proposed 16-mile pipeline for Jersey City and beyond is also a 30-inch diameter, high-pressure gas transmission pipeline.

4 Classes of Pipeline

There are four classes of pipelines, this source pointed out – from Class 1 through Class 4 – based on building density and population.

“The higher class number indicates greater population density around the pipeline,” our source said.  “For example, a class 4 designation triggers more ground inspections, more leak detection, and a higher yield strength pipe.

According to a 2008 presentation on Regulation of Natural Gas Pipelines, “the higher the class, the greater the number of buildings intended for human occupancy located within the continuous mile.”  (For a copy of this presentation, see footnote number one under Links & Resources below.)1

Further, as this presentation notes, the class determines the design criteria of the pipeline.2

But this level of transparency on pipeline safety is not something that gas companies generally provide when they pitch the benefits and safety of their pipeline operations to a community.

Jersey City Fights Pipeline

Folks in Jersey City, however, are not depending on the kindness of strangers from the gas company or the regulatory agencies.

They have launched a massive grasstops/grassroots opposition to the pipeline that includes Facebook, Google and Twitter pages, plus their own standalone website:

In a stroke of brilliance, residents and activists like Dale Hardman and Stephen Musgrave are urging the mayor and city council to seek formal “intervenor status” at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

This will give Jersey City a legal seat at the table – the last thing in the world that Spectra Energy wants – and probably FERC too.

See Stephen Musgrave’s blog on the explosion in San Bruno and the Spectra Energy pipeline proposal for Jersey City.

We Must Learn From San Bruno:

Links & Resources

1, 2 Regulation of Natural Gas Pipelines, June 23, 2008 – See especially slides 7, 8, 9 in this Powerpoint presentation.  The source of this presentation is unidentified, though a reference on Google suggests it may have been given at a presentation involving Fort Worth, Texas, city government.  Pdf file: regulation_of_natural_gas_pipelines_ppt_6_23_081

Huge Gas Explosion Kills 4, Levels Homes in CaliforniaAOL News, September 10, 2010:  Link

Utility in pipeline blast still ‘looking into’ odor complaintsUS News on MSNBC, September 10, 2010.  Link:

After Gas Blast, Spotlight Shines on PipelinesAOL News, September 10, 2010.  Link:

PUC, PG&E Investigate Complaints of Gas Prior to ExplosionNBC Bay Area, September 11, 2010.  Link:

San Bruno explosion, fire neighborhood now a crime sceneSan Jose Mercury News, September 10, 2010.  Link:

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