Twists In The San Bruno Saga

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | July 2011, Vol. 66 No. 7

To put things in perspective:
• The old pipeline was held together from the day of installation with more than 150 seam welds so poorly done that they went only halfway through the pipe:
• PG&E’s inspector left the job site before the bursting project was completed and never reviewed the gas pipe before or after the pipe bursting project;
• There were more than 150 faulty seam welds in that area of the steel gas pipe dating back to 1956;
• PG&E had historically operated the pipeline in pressure ranges from 125 to 350 psi which in turn put constant stress on the faulty seam welds – stress that Nickell and other experts say could easily and most likely caused the explosion; and
• First and foremost, the pipe bursting contractor and city of San Bruno did nothing wrong. In fact, the contractor engaged precautionary measures due to the proximity of the gas line.

Thank goodness someone like Robert Nickell served on this state review panel. He had the scientific integrity to review new information and publically modify his earlier statements accordingly. A lesser person may not have had the professional and personal courage to dispute his own panel’s initial findings. Nickell apparently realizes the potential damaging impact of the panel’s earlier misguided conclusions. Blaming pipe bursting for the explosion could have had far-reach negative impacts for the entire industry.

We look forward to reviewing the NTSB’s final report. But it’s important to remember that with or without pipe bursting, this particular gas pipeline was going to fail.

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