Records and common sense

From the Monterey Herald as part of ongoing coverage of the San Bruno incident:

Under federal and state law, PG&E is obligated to have accurate records of its pipelines — on paper, if necessary.

The company’s misconception that the San Bruno pipe was seamless stunned Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, but she also said it was just one in a series of blunders by the company.

“This misinformation was not a minor record-keeping oversight,” she told a gathering of transportation officials in Washington, D.C., last month. “In the years since the pipe was put into service, decisions regarding inspections, operating pressures and risk management plans were all based on facts that were just plain wrong.”

But in the end, one of PG&E’s biggest blunders may have been losing track of the basic specifications of a 30-inch pipe containing explosive high-pressure gases located underneath a suburban neighborhood.

“If companies are keeping good records, they should know what kind of pipe they have in the ground and what kind of problems they’ve had in their lifetimes,” said Robert Eiber, a Columbus, Ohio, pipeline safety consultant who has been working in the industry as long as the San Bruno pipe has been in the ground.

Eiber said that based on pipe manufacturing records, it is unlikely the San Bruno pipe could have been seamless anyway, and PG&E should have known that. Pipes that big weren’t made without welds back then, he said.

“Not many people have used 30-inch diameter seamless pipe, I can tell you that,” Eiber said.

Bob Eiber is a well-known and highly respected pipeline engineer and researcher.

The pipe failure at San Bruno initiated at a longitudinal seam that had been welded from only one side (≤50% penetration).

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One Response to Records and common sense

  1. Susan Jaques says:

    And in general, people seem to dislike “paperwork”. It’s seen as administrative, a pain-in-the-you-know-what, doesn’t add anything to the job, etc etc. Here we see why it’s important. People move on and take their knowledge with them. It is in the company interest to maintain records of high quality.

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