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California Pipeline Safety Bills Headed To Jerry Brown's Desk

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By SHEILA V. KUMAR, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Two bills written in response to a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion that tore through a suburban San Francisco neighborhood passed the Legislature Thursday.

The measures by Sen. Ellen Corbett of San Leandro and Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco address emergency response and pipeline safety in the wake of the gas explosion that killed eight and destroyed 55 homes in San Bruno last year.

An investigation wrapped up by the National Safety Transportation Board this week concluded that the immediate causes of the disaster were the insufficient welds and aging pipes owned by one of the largest gas companies in the nation, Pacific Gas & Electric.

The panel said the company's history of spotty pipeline inspection contributed to the accident, a problem that was apparently missed by the California Public Utilities Commission. The board also blamed the lax state and federal regulations for the line's failure.

SB44 by Corbett requires the commission to set strict emergency-response standards for natural gas operators, saying the bill improves the communication and coordination of emergency responders.

"This bill fixes one of the problems: a poor and uncoordinated response to the disaster," she said in a statement.

PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said the company supported Corbett's legislation and has since taken a number of steps to improve their organization with local fire and police.

Yee's measure, SB216, requires public utilities to install automatic and remotely controlled shut-off valves on pipelines that cross active earthquake faults or heavily populated areas.

The fire, fed by gas from the ruptured pipeline, burned for 95 minutes before operators were able to shut off a manual valve. Investigators said the fire would have gone out in under 10 minutes if the valve had been shut off immediately.

"If SB216 had been in place last year, the devastation in San Bruno would have been limited and lives would have been saved," Yee said.

Paulo said the company has now installed both the automatic and remotely controlled valves at their Healy station in San Bruno and plan to continue installing either or both of the valves throughout their pipeline system.

The remotely controlled valve can be shut off from the company's headquarters in San Francisco while the automatic valve shuts itself off when it detects a drop in pressure, Paulo said.

"We installed both the automatic and remote valves because of the proximity to the San Andreas fault," she said.

The state Senate passed the bills unanimously Thursday, sending them to the governor.

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