The San Bruno, California Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion of September 9, 2010
The peaceful residential neighborhood of Creedmoor in San Bruno, California was rocked by a sudden natural gas pipeline explosion at 6:11 PM PDT on September 9, 2010. The explosion created a crater measuring 167 feet long, 26 feet wide and 40 feet deep, sending what was described by eye witnesses as a "wall of fire more than 1,000 feet high." The Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) pipeline was a 30-inch high pressure distribution line buried deep beneath the surface.
The shock of the explosion was felt more than 2 miles away at San Francisco International Airport, and many area residents thought that it was either an earthquake, which is common along the San Andreas Fault, or a large aircraft crash. It was a hour after the event before it was determined to have been a pipeline explosion, and it was about 90 minutes after the event before gas was shut off to the distribution line. The blast set a large fire that burned about 10 acres, destroyed 38 homes, severely damaged another 120 homes, killed 8 residents, injured another 58 people and resulted in massive financial losses. The explosion blew a 28 foot long piece of the pipeline about 100 feet from where it lay underground at the time of the event.
Blast damage disrupted a water line to fire hydrants requiring firefighters to transport water to the site. Additional ground and aerial assistance was provided in the form of 25 fire engines, 4 airtankers, 2 air attack planes, and 1 helicopter sent by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Residents assisted firefighters by dragging hoses 4,000 feet to working fire hydrants, and others drove burn victims to hospitals. The fire was only 50% contained by 10:00 PM, and continued to burn until 11:40 AM the following day.
PG&E reduced pipeline pressure by 20% after it was revealed that the pipeline may have been improperly installed. After the San Bruno pipeline failure, PG&E was required to re-evaluate how it determines the maximum operating pressure for some 1,800 miles of pipeline throughout its system. Specifically, the California Public Utilities Commission asked PG&E officials to show their lines had been tested or examined in a way that could prove the pipeline can withstand the current maximum operating pressure. At the March 15, 2011 deadline for this report, PG&E was unable to provide documentation for details of some of its gas transmission pipelines.
In August, 2011, at the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E unveiled a plan to modernize and enhance safety of its gas transmission operations over several years, including automation of over 200 valves, strength testing over 700 miles of pipe, replacing 185 miles, and upgrading another 200 miles to allow in-line inspection. On November 6, 2011, an explosion occurred near Woodside, California during strength testing of PG&E pipelines. The explosion caused a mudslide in the area, however no casualties were reported. It was revealed that PG&E had done pipeline replacement work on Line 132, which was the pipeline in San Bruno, along parts of the San Andreas Fault zone to reduce the likelihood of the pipeline failing from an earthquake. The replacement was stopped short of the area that failed in 2010.
On January 13 2012, an independent audit from the State of California issued a report stating that PG&E had illegally diverted over $100 million from a fund used for safety operations, and instead used it for executive compensation and bonuses.
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