Gas Company monitoring LCF pipelines

As investigators continue to decipher the cause of the Sept. 9 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., the Southern California Gas Company is enhancing an already extensive list of safety procedures to ensure such an accident does not occur locally, company officials said.

"For the Gas Company, safety is the number one priority," said Tony Tartaglia, public affairs manager with the Gas Company. "It has been for 140 years. We are the largest natural gas distribution company in the United States, and we pride ourselves on safety."

The company launched last week an interactive pipeline map locator that allows customers to trace transmission and high pressure distribution lines that run through their neighborhoods. In La Cañada, there is a high-pressure distribution pipeline along the entire length of Foothill Boulevard, and along Verdugo Boulevard between Foothill Boulevard and Honolulu Avenue. The piping operates at a pressure of less than 200 pounds per square inch and delivers gas in small volumes to the lower pressure distribution system.

In addition, there is a small segment of transmission line, which operates at a pressure of more than 200 pounds per square inch, that services the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the east perimeter of the city.

The company reports to the California Public Utilities Commission and all facets of its operations are continually reviewed, vetted and audited, Tartaglia said.

"We meet or exceed all state and federal guidelines, procedures and laws," Tartaglia said. "We design pipeline to withstand various anomalies like an earthquake…We are constantly looking at new ways and procedures and techniques in order to make those pipelines safer underground."

The Gas Company will spend $77 million on its pipeline integrity program this year, Tartaglia said, and has spent $300 million on safety since 2003.

All pipelines are operated at or below rated pressures, he said, and there is an elaborate valve system along the length of the lines that can automatically reroute gas if pressure begins to exceed safe levels.

Further, all pipes are checked regularly with employees walking the lines with gas detection units to see if there are any leaks or signs of corrosion, Tartaglia said.

Many of the current regulations, established by the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, were born out of a 2000 explosion that killed 12 people near Carlsbad, N.M.

But last month, a natural gas pipeline operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company exploded in San Bruno, Calif., killing eight people and raising questions about the safety of gas pipelines throughout the country.

On Aug. 19, an electrical contractor ruptured a 3-inch natural gas pipeline on Chevy Chase Drive in La Cañada. The street was closed between Descanso Drive and Berkshire Avenue and seven homes evacuated as Gas Company workers repaired the leak.

Residents and contracts are being asked to call the Underground Service Alert at 811 at least 48 hours before they initiate any digging project, Tartaglia said, in order to avoid such ruptures.

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