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PG&E pipelines still under question

Stanford officials have been in contact with PG&E representatives since the utility company named four sections of pipeline running along Junipero Serra on its list of top 100 sections for maintenance last September.

The PG&E compilation was published in an effort to increase transparency following the San Bruno pipeline explosion. It said the Junipero Serra pipes face risk of potential corrosion.

(ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily)

According to Stanford officials, PG&E has since assured Stanford that the pipes are not dangerous, but has not yet released detailed information on the pipes’ background and maintenance history. The University currently faces a waiting game with PG&E until Mar. 15, the date by which the company said it would send information from an ongoing report. PG&E will present that report to the Public Utilities Commission on the same day.

The pipes in question run by Sand Hill Road, on either side of Junipero Serra past faculty backyards, near the golf course and down Page Mill Road. PG&E has had full control over their care since the 1930s, when the pipes’ first sections were installed.

While it came as a surprise to Stanford officials to see these pipes on the maintenance list, they have “no information the pipes are dangerous,” said Assistant Vice President of University Communications Lisa Lapin.

“[PG&E] has generally been responsive when they have the information,” Lapin added. “Sometimes they themselves are trying to answer the same questions.”

Immediately after the report was released, Stanford met with PG&E representatives to find out as much information as possible.

According to PG&E spokesperson Joe Molica, the pipes were put on the list for “potential of corrosion.” He said PG&E has since fixed the issue by adjusting the cathodic monitor system–an external electric monitor for corrosion–on the pipes.

The Top 100 Maintenance List “looks for long range evaluation and planning purposes,” Molica said.

But it does not signify immediate danger.

“We thought the corrosion may be a bit higher [on the Junipero Serra pipes] than at other places,” he said. “We adjusted the cathodic monitor and recent analysis has shown marked improvement. There is no further action needed for external corrosion.”

Molica also emphasized that pipeline monitoring at PG&E is a 24-hour, seven day per week process.

Stanford’s questions to PG&E focused on the types of pipes along Junipero Serra, when they were last inspected and their condition, Lapin said. The Mar. 15 report will reveal the maintenance records and history of the pipes, among other information.

Lawrence Gibbs, assistant vice provost of environmental health and safety, has been monitoring the issue closely since the report first came out. He has also kept nearby homeowners informed about any updates and has forwarded any homeowners’ questions on to PG&E.

“It remains a concern because we’re still looking for more data,” he said. “If this was something we felt was a more imminent need, we would have pressed [PG&E] even more.”

Palo Alto, San Mateo and other surrounding areas are also in the process of questioning PG&E about pipes potentially requiring maintenance in their areas. Any leniency PG&E had been awarded in the past by the state utilities commission–an accusation recently put forth by California state representatives–is long gone.

“One of the things to come out of this will hopefully be much more information about transmission pipe safety, not only here but in the whole country,” Gibbs said.

Any plan of action Stanford takes is contingent on the information contained in the forthcoming report. However, since PG&E documents revealed after the San Bruno explosion illustrated instances of faulty record keeping, falsified reports and delayed inspections, there is concern that some questions will remain unanswered come March.

“The hope and expectation is that they have all the records there, and if they don’t we’ll have to find out how they will ascertain that information,” Gibbs said.

“We’re following the investigation very closely,” Lapin added.

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