SAN CARLOS -- An emergency operations center opened Saturday, just one day after city officials declared a state of emergency in San Carlos following the release of company emails that showed a PG&E employee questioning the integrity of a gas line that runs under a heavily populated section of the city.
City officials said the center was opened Saturday around 11:30 a.m. in a "limited capacity." A half-hour later, the city manager, city attorney, police and fire officials and representatives with the city's Public Works Department spoke via conference call with representatives from PG&E and the state and county offices of emergency services to discuss the current status of Line 147.
The safety of line 147, a 20-inch, 4-mile long pipe that runs from Interstate 280 through San Carlos to Highway 101, primarily under Brittan Avenue, was called into question after the city received documentation Thursday that showed PG&E officials questioning whether the pipeline had been properly maintained and inspected. One employee states that after reviewing records, inspectors believe the pipe dates to 1929 and had found external corrosion.
A San Mateo County judge on Friday ordered a temporary injunction and requested the agency shut down the line immediately. Instead, PG&E reduced the pressure in the line by 20 percent Friday night and told city officials Saturday that they were evaluating the potential impact to customers should the line be shut off completely.
The company's assessment would be completed Monday, city officials said in a news release, but that did not quell Mayor Bob Grassilli's bewilderment with PG&E going against a court order.
"How can a company which claims safety is their top priority continue to ignore a court order issued to protect the public?" he said in a statement. "It's 80 degrees outside, PG&E customers in the Bay Area aren't going to be without gas if line 147 were shut down. They shut down the line for several months in 2011 without impacting customers."
A Nov. 14, 2012, email from PG&E noted: "A recent leak repair effort on L-147 ... has revealed pipe specification(s) that are inconsistent with the current data in the PG&E system."
Another employee expressed serious reservations about the pipe's safety in a Nov. 17, 2012, email. "After thinking about this some more, I have some concerns about this pipe," the employee wrote. "Are we sitting on a San Bruno situation? ... Is the pipe cracked and near failure?
"I don't want to panic people but seems like we should consider this and probably move the pipe up ... for replacement."
PG&E released a statement Saturday reiterating that the pipe was safe as well as noting it was abiding by the judge's orders. Officials said they were going to cut gas flow to the line in a "safe and effective" manner. A complete gas shut-off could happen as early as Monday or Tuesday, the utility added.
"We are working diligently to comply with the court order to safely and effectively shut off service to the pipeline," said Nick Stavropoulos, executive vice president of PG&E. "However, in the meantime, I want all customers to know that this pipeline has been demonstrated to be safe using the leading and most universally accepted standard for assessing the integrity of operating pipelines. Under no circumstances would we operate this pipeline in an unsafe condition and any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong."
On Sept. 9, 2010, eight people were killed and dozens of homes burned after a 30-inch, high-pressure pipe running under the Crestmoor neighborhood in San Bruno tore open along a faulty seam, causing a massive explosion and fire.
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