San Bruno blast investigation to become more public

| January 28, 2011

After hearing complaints that the investigation into last year’s pipeline explosion in San Bruno was being conducted behind closed doors far too often, on Thursday the president of the California Public Utilities Commission said he intends to open those doors a crack.

At a hearing, commission President Michael Peevey announced he would ask his colleagues to formalize their multiple investigations into one public process, which will allow advocacy groups more access to the details being uncovered by regulators about the tragedy.

Much is still unknown about what exactly caused the Sept. 9 explosion of a 30-inch PG&E natural-gas main in a residential neighborhood in of San Bruno. The explosion was followed by a ferocious fire that consumed dozens of homes. The disaster killed eight people and injured many more.

The National Transportation Safety Board is taking the lead on investigating the cause of the explosion, but the CPUC, which is the government agency with direct oversight of the state’s pipelines, also launched multiple probes.

The CPUC’s safety division is investigating the incident, and in the weeks after the explosion the commission formed a separate advisory panel tasked with determining what PG&E could have done to avoid the disaster, and what failures in regulations led to the disaster.

But PG&E watchdog The Utility Reform Network had complained that all the investigations were being conducted in secret, and no consumer advocates were allowed to consider the facts being gathered.

TURN Executive Director Mark Toney said that cuts the public out of the process of determining what appropriate measures should be taken or what disciplinary actions should be taken against PG&E, if they are appropriate.

Peevey announced he will bring a proposal forward in February to consolidate, formalize and make public the investigations.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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