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Gas pipeline update: Campus officials meet with PG&E

Campus officials met with representatives of PG&E Wednesday afternoon and later with the board of the Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders to address questions and concerns in the wake of being informed Monday that a 22-inch high-pressure gas pipeline along Junipero Serra Boulevard is on PG&E's high-priority maintenance list.

Campus officials have been working to obtain further information from PG&E in the wake of being informed Monday that a 22-inch high-pressure gas pipeline along Junipero Serra Boulevard is on PG&E's high-priority maintenance list.

The campus presented an extensive list of questions about the pipeline to four officials from PG&E who came to the campus Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with campus utilities and safety officers.

"We had a very positive exchange and open communication," said Larry Gibbs, associate vice provost for Environmental Health and Safety. "They were very helpful to us in some areas, particularly in explaining how they are now monitoring pipelines and to help us as we prioritize upcoming campus projects that involve work near gas lines. But they also were not able to provide us some of the information we sought about the status of the Junipero Serra pipeline."

PG&E said that it could not answer the campus' questions regarding the age, maintenance history or current condition of Line 109, which was identified Monday as having 6,005 feet in four segments on PG&E's Long-Range Gas Transmission Pipeline Planning Input list of "top 100" segments. The Junipero Serra segments are ranked at 56, 60, 61 and 62 out of 2,000 pipelines on their maintenance list, PG&E officials said Wednesday, and are on the list due to potential for corrosion.

The utility company's documents state that: "PG&E conducted an analysis of the cathodic system that protects this pipeline segment from corrosion. Based on this analysis, the system was adjusted for better protection. Analysis of the system in 2009 showed a marked improvement. Engineering will continue monitoring the segment, but no further action is contemplated at this time."

PG&E officials said that the National Transportation Safety Board has asked the utility not to comment on maintenance issues or the conditions of pipelines while the investigation is ongoing into the Sept. 9 San Bruno explosion. PG&E said that it is known that Line 132, which also runs along Junipero Serra but was not on the "top 100" list, was installed in 1956. The utility officials were not able to respond when questioned about the date for Line 109, which runs on the campus side of the boulevard.

PG&E officials said that pipeline segments on their priority maintenance list change every year, and that the list is ranked through a risk analysis that takes into account a number of factors. They said the utility follows a standard risk assessment practice used nationally by the gas pipeline industry and gas utilities.

The PG&E representatives attending the meeting included the gas engineer responsible for the lower peninsula area, the supervisor for maintenance and construction and Stanford's PG&E account representative.

PG&E said it is conducting bimonthly monitoring of Line 109, and all of its pipelines, to check pressure and corrosion protection systems. The officials also indicated that the utility regularly provides for aerial surveillance and road and foot monitoring. Visual monitoring includes examining vegetation around gas lines to identify whether a leak could be present. Since the San Bruno incident PG&E has been required to conduct an inspection of its entire high-pressure transmission pipeline by Oct. 12, and that is proceeding.

PG&E officials also said that excavation or third-party activity near gas transmission lines, rather than corrosion, remains the biggest danger to pipelines. Stanford has suspended plans to work on a water and wastewater project along Junipero Serra that would have involved digging around Line 109. PG&E is also planning activity in the same area to add additional distribution of low-pressure distribution capacity to the campus. Since both projects are in similar areas, it was decided to postpone the university project so it can be better coordinated with the PG&E project in the area. The university works very closely with PG&E on all construction projects that are in the vicinity of gas lines, with PG&E inspectors on site during the process.

Also on Wednesday evening, representatives from the university offices of Environmental Health and Safety; Land, Buildings and Real Estate; and Utilities updated the board of the Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders (SCRL) on the pipeline issue at its regularly scheduled meeting. They provided the board with an update following the meeting earlier in the day with PG&E officials and answered questions about the issue.

Jack Cleary, associate vice president for land, buildings and real estate, reiterated the point that the utility company's "top 100" list should not be construed as a list of imminent safety hazards. Instead, he noted, the list is one of PG&E's protective maintenance and risk-management planning tools used to prioritize resources and plan for enhanced monitoring or future work.

SCRL board members expressed appreciation for the university's efforts to communicate quickly with campus homeowners. They also expressed relief that university officials have continued to communicate and coordinate with the utility company on planned projects, such as the water and sewer project originally scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 20.

"The water and sewer project was not a critical project that needed to be done right away," Gibbs said, noting that PG&E is planning a project to add a new gas pressure reducing station from Junipero Serra to accommodate increased gas distribution capability on campus with the new campus housing and dining facilities going online. "We decided to wait to make sure anything Stanford does in the area will not interfere with the work needed for the gas distribution hookup," Gibbs added.

The university will provide updates on the high-pressure gas pipeline situation near Stanford as new information becomes available.

If anyone has further questions, contact the campus Office of Environmental Health and Safety at (650) 723-0448.