Off-topic: Natural gas transmission lines through Alhambra

If you are anything like me, you wondered whether the tragedy that occurred in San Bruno could happen here. There, a 30 inch natural gas transmission pipe blew up, killed several people and destroyed a number of homes.

The answer is yes, it can happen here. But there is not enough information available for us to know or appreciate the risk, yet.

Pipelines in Alhambra
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has created a mapping tool, the National Pipeline Mapping System, that provides a visual representation of where natural gas and other hazardous materials pipelines cross the city.

Only one pipeline, for natural gas, is located in Alhambra. It is the blue set of lines that intersect at Mission and Marengo. Click map for larger view (then Actions > All Sizes).

Off-topic: Underground Gas Pipelines through Alhambra

The National Pipeline Mapping System also identifies the owner of particular pipelines and provides contact information. In this case, the one that goes through Alhambra is owned by “SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GAS CO TRANSMISSION NATURAL GAS;” (A.K.A. The Gas Company).

If you’re wondering, the place the pipes intersect is the walled off lot at the corner of Marengo and Mission, shown here in Google Street View.

View Larger Map

Pipeline Safety
Unfortunately, I cannot quickly and easily find out online when the pipeline was last inspected or its state of health. It seems I’d need to call the gas company or the City of Alhambra to get such information, but even then might not be given access.

The Gas Company is required to regularly inspect its pipes by federal law. The National Pipeline Mapping System web site says that its data is off limits due to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Although not available to regular citizens, city officials can gain access. It states: “[T]he Office of Pipeline Safety restricts access to the NPMS to federal, state, and local government agencies (including emergency responders).”

The Gas Company has not completed its required inspections although it does repair as it discovers problems. A Gas Company spokesperson, Raul Gordillo, is quoted in today’s LA Times stating: “If we identify a threat to the integrity of a pipeline, we take immediate steps to repair or replace it.” The Times continued: “At the same time, he said, the company is making progress complying with a federal mandate to inspect its transmission lines and has completed an initial assessment of 892 miles of its 1,100-mile system.” That leaves 208 miles of pipeline not inspected yet.

PG&E, the main supplier of electricity and natural gas in Northern California, takes a different tact. PG&E inspects but defers replacing its pipes, and then maintains a list of high priority segments of its pipeline network that needs to be replaced. Apparently, the segment of its pipeline that exploded in San Bruno was not on that high priority list. Today, PG&E released its high priority list to the public.

Although the Gas Company does not maintain a high priority list, it should follow PG&E’s lead and share with us which of its 208 miles of pipeline is left to be inspected, as well as information critical for the public to know: year the pipe was installed, date the pipe was last inspected, results of that inspection (i.e. general health of pipeline), and next inspection date. As a public utility, the Gas Company has a greater obligation to the general public than other corporations.

REMINDER: It is worth noting that if you have an emergency or questions regarding a Gas Odor or Carbon Monoxide, please call the Gas Company immediately: 800-427-2200.

Bottom line and action plan:
Alhambra does have a large natural gas transmission pipeline running across it. Contact the California Public Utilities Commission, U.S. Department of Transportation, and your local representatives. Demand that CPUC and USDOT release information about each pipeline that are critical for us to know, including: year the pipe was installed, date the pipe was last inspected, results of that inspection (i.e. general health of pipeline), and next inspection date.

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