State Investigates Fresno|Gas Line Explosion

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – The California Public Utilities Commission is investigating Friday’s PG&E pipeline explosion in Fresno that injured 11 people, to determine if the company violated any laws.
     The explosion came just 8 days after the CPUC fined PG&E $1.6 billion for the September 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed 8 people and leveled a neighborhood.
     Pacific Gas & Electric said the natural gas line in Fresno had been inspected twice in April and was found to have no leaks. The company has hired an independent engineering firm to determine the cause of the explosion.
     The blast occurred at the Fresno County Sheriff’s Foundation Gun Range around 2:30 p.m. Friday and sent 11 people to hospitals with injuries. Six people remained hospitalized Monday, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
     A heavy equipment operator – who was subcontracted from the city’s public works department to reinforce a berm behind the targets at the gun range – accidentally punctured the 12-inch natural gas pipeline owned by PG&E with his tractor.
     A fire ignited, with flames shooting 100 feet into the sky, the sheriff’s office said.
     A crew of Fresno County Jail inmates were at the gun range picking up shell casings when the explosion occurred.
     Sheriff’s deputies working at the range helped take the injured inmates out of the area to medics, and PG&E workers went out to shut off the leaking gas line, the sheriff’s office said.
     Five of the injured who remain hospitalized are inmates. Three are in critical but stable condition; the other two in stable condition. The fifth patient is the tractor operator, who is in critical but stable condition.
     Highway 99 was closed for several hours and the explosion caused extensive damage to Union Pacific’s nearby railroad tracks.
     PG&E said it had not been notified that work that was to be done near the pipeline. No call had been placed to 811, a toll-free service to mark and locate underground utilities, the company said.
     “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those individuals who were injured,” the company said in a statement. “As we continue to investigate the incident, we remind all of our customers of the importance of calling 811 before they do any type of digging project. Friday’s incident in Fresno is a sobering reminder that digging into gas pipelines can have serious safety consequences.”
     PG&E said it conducted an aerial investigation the day before the explosion that showed no construction activity on the site and indicated no gas leaks from the pipeline. Crews also conducted a ground survey on April 1 and found no safety issues, PG&E said.
     A survey of the pipeline in 2013 revealed approximately 40 inches of cover between the pipe and the surface, which meets with PG&E standards and federal code, the company said.
     The California Public Utilities Commission will assess PG&E’s emergency response performance and evaluate any factors contributing to the incident.
     PG&E is waiting for CPUC approval to remove the damaged pipeline section. The company said final repairs could take about two weeks.

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