Fresno gas explosion raises new questions about pipelines and dangerous digging

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Images of towering flames in Fresno from a 12-inch transmission gas pipeline explosion Friday, brought back memories of the 2010 PG&E gas explosion in San Bruno, when a faulty 30-inch PG&E pipeline killed 8 people there and destroyed a neighborhood.

"How many more times are people going to get injured or killed from these explosions?" said Tina Giusti, a San Bruno resident. She says the Fresno incident shows that more needs to be done to ensure pipeline safety.

"Make it safer for us so we don't have to worry about these possible explosions from gas lines," Giusti told KTVU.

KTVU went to the PG&E headquarters in San Francisco, where crews were monitoring the situation from their emergency operations center.

"We saw the information come into the system," said PG&E spokesman Donald Cutler. Cutler told KTVU that a drop in pressure was detected at 2:29 p.m. Friday by their Gas Control and Dispatch Center, that was built after the San Bruno explosion.

Cutler says an incident call came from Fresno at 2:36 p.m. and PG&E workers arrived at the scene about 3 p.m. PG&E reports that the gas was turned off by 3:20 p.m., about 50 minutes after the initial alert.

The ruptured gas line in Fresno had a manual shutoff valve, according to Cutler. PG&E faced criticism after the San Bruno gas explosion for not having automatic shutoff valves. Since then, the company has installed more than 200 automatic shutoff valves in their system and is in the process of installing more.

On Friday, Cutler told KTVU that PG&E found no record of any calls to 8-1-1 from the public works crew in Fresno prior to the digging near the pipeline.

"8-1-1 is a free service that marks all underground pipelines and other utilities so that you can dig safely and avoid these type of incidents," Cutler said.

PG&E reportedly gets about five calls per day about leaks caused by outside parties digging improperly around gas pipelines.

"This is a major problem in California," said State Senator Jerry Hill, who represents San Bruno and has introduced Senate Bill 119, the Dig Safe Act, to address the problem.

"It will set up an authority to investigate and enforce the law because right now, no one is investigating appropriately and properly when there is a dig-in, to find out who is at fault," Hill told KTVU.

State Senator Hill says crews who dig without calling should face stiff penalties. His bill is scheduled to go before a Senate committee on April 28th.