NTSB hearing focuses on lack of automatic shutoff valves in San Bruno pipeline blast

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National Transportation Safety Board

Accident scene with the crater in the foreground and the ruptured pipe section in the background

The National Transportation Safety Board has begun three days of hearings into last September’s deadly natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno. On the hot seat are officials from Pacific Gas and Electric responsible for the failed pipeline.

The NTSB focused on why there wasn’t a remote shutoff valve in San Bruno. It took Pacific Gas and Electric an hour-and-a-half to shut off the natural gas flowing through the ruptured pipeline.

A PG&E engineering consultant testified that he’d written a memo saying remote valves would have little or no effect on safety. He based that conclusion on industry studies rather than a federal report warning there’s a “significant risk” as long as gas is still flowing.

Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who represents San Bruno, is attending the hearing. She calls that testimony "absolutely outrageous." Speier says when you’re a regulated utility, "you have a responsibility to the public, not to the industry. And to rely on solely on the industry to make that decision is malfeasance."

PG&E has started a pilot program to install about a dozen remote shutoff valves by the end of this year.

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