It’s taken a year, but the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) has released the findings of its investigation into the San Bruno disaster. The full report is a whopping 140 pages, but the key takeaway is that PG&E's pipeline integrity management program is deemed deficient and ineffective. The investigation criticizes the utility’s slow response time, as it took 95 minutes to stop the flow of gas and to isolate the rupture site, which lead to more property damage and danger for local residents. In comparison, the report applauds the prompt and appropriate response time of local authorities in San Bruno, as firefighters and police officers were at the scene almost immediately after the rupture. The executive summary states, “More than 900 emergency responders from the city of San Bruno and surrounding jurisdictions executed a coordinated emergency response, which included defensive operations, search and evacuation, and medical operations.”
PG&E's pipeline integrity management program is singled out for deficiencies for the following reasons:
- Was based on incomplete and inaccurate pipeline information.
- Did not consider the design and materials contribution to the risk of a pipeline failure.
- Failed to consider the presence of previously identified welded seam cracks as part of its risk assessment.
- Resulted in the selection of an examination method that could not detect welded seam defects.
- Led to internal assessments of the program that were superficial and resulted in no improvements.
A list of 28 findings and recommendations can be found here. For instance, one recommendation to the governor states that “Expeditiously evaluate the authority and ability of the pipeline safety division within the California Public Utilities Commission to effectively enforce state pipeline safety regulations, and, based on the results of this evaluation, grant the pipeline safety division within the California Public Utilities Commission the direct authority, including the assessment of fines and penalties, to correct noncompliance by state regulated pipeline operators.”
PG&E released the following statement in response to the report:
“PG&E is grateful for the NTSB’s thorough investigation of the San Bruno pipeline accident and fully embraces the Board’s recommendations for improving the operations and management of the company’s natural gas system. We are implementing those recommendations as part of a larger effort, both immediate and long-term, to promote safer pipeline operations. We are committed to continuing to learn from the San Bruno accident and to sharing those learnings across the natural gas industry so that a tragedy of this magnitude never happens again. We are deeply sorry that our pipeline was the cause of the accident, and we remain committed to supporting the City of San Bruno and its residents as the healing and rebuilding process continues.”
The NTSB also released a video on the findings from its investigation: