San Bruno pipeline explosion: PG&E reveals major leak suffered 23 years ago

Flames from a massive fire September 9, 2010 in San Bruno, California on the day a gas pipeline exploded.
Flames from a massive fire September 9, 2010 in San Bruno, California on the day a gas pipeline exploded. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The natural gas pipeline that blew up in Northern California last September – killing eight people – suffered a major leak 23 years ago - but accident investigators looking into the recent blast didn’t know that until this week, when Pacific Gas and Electric told them. Regulators responded to the belated information.

The National Transportation Safety Board is meticulous. Its investigators take bits of shattered planes, crumpled trains – or in this case, a pulverized pipe – and piece together the reasons a catastrophe happened.

But to do that, they need to know everything – especially the details of gas leak that happened 23 years ago nine miles south of the portion of San Bruno pipeline that blew up last September. Pacific Gas and Electric just told the Safety Board about that leak – and board chair Deborah Hersman didn’t take the revelation well.

She’s touring San Bruno this week to meet with families who lost relatives in the explosion. She said she’s “very dismayed” that PG&E took nine months to realize the pipeline had experienced a major leak years before.

Hersman said PG&E didn’t keep adequate records. She also suggested that the crews might have to excavate and examine the section of pipeline that leaked in 1988.

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