Pipeline safety a concern

The gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., on Sept. 9 raised concerns about the safety of other gas pipelines in California, including those in San Luis Obispo.

Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy based in San Diego, owns the network of gas pipelines under San Luis Obispo. The company has been in operation for more than 140 years and serves approximately 20,000 miles in Southern and Central California.

“The pipes running under San Luis Obispo were installed in the 1950s and 1960s, but they’ve been upgraded over time,” Raul Gordillo, a SoCalGas spokesman, said. “What matters is how they operate, their history, and how much they’ve been maintained.”

Gordillo said SoCalGas pipes are patrolled four times a year and their integrity is assessed and improved if necessary.

“We consider safety to be a top priority, and we make sure to respond promptly to any situation,” Gordillo said.

A press release from SoCalGas on Sept. 17 stated that the company will make more information about gas pipeline safety available to customers living close to transmission pipelines. Additionally, it will add information on transmission pipelines from the Department of Transportation on its website. Over the next month the company will also survey transmission pipes in urban areas that have not been surveyed within the past six months.

Since the San Bruno disaster, the city leaders of San Luis Obispo have contacted SoCalGas and will hear a presentation from the company in October about new safety measures.

“We appreciate the effort the company is making, and once we hear the presentation we’ll do our best to make sure that any new protocols are followed,” acting assistant city manager Michael Codron said.

Gas line safety on campus is another concern. The gas pipes under campus are maintained by the school, not SoCalGas. In May, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) was alerted to a gas leak over Dexter Lawn.

“We got a complaint of a natural gas odor on Dexter Lawn, and when I went out there I found that it was a small leak in a very open area,” director of Environmental Health and Safety David Ragsdale said. “It was clear that the pipe was starting to fail, but after evaluating it we concluded that the problem could be safely addressed when the campus was not so busy, and we fixed it after school ended in June.”

According to Ragsdale, the pipes running under Cal Poly operate at a lower pressure than the pipe that exploded in San Bruno. A pipe as large as the 30-inch transmission pipeline in San Bruno would not move enough gas for the areas it serves without running at high pressure, while the smaller gas lines under campus run at a standard pressure and do not need to move as much gas, Ragsdale said.

“Usually the issues that Facilities Services and EHS deal with are small, but we still respond quickly to calls about this kind of thing,” Ragsdale said.

Cal Poly students have opinions about gas pipeline safety as well. Nutrition senior Erica Melling said though SoCalGas isn’t Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the companies have the same risks.

“I don’t know too much about the issue, but I think that if people want help or information on it, the company should provide it,” Melling said.

SoCalGas recommends that anyone who smells gas or hears any sound that might indicate a leak to call their hotline right away. The company also sends employees to mark the natural gas lines if a customer plans to dig or do construction in his or her yard.

“You have to always be aware of the natural gas lines whenever you do things like shower or cook, because they’re everywhere,” Gordillo said. “We have nearly 5,000 employees ready to respond if there’s a problem.”