PG&E answers Stanford community members' questions at open house

Approximately 20 Stanford homeowners and community residents attended an open house hosted by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Monday, July 18, to get their questions answered about the hydrostatic pressure testing planned for a section of natural gas pipeline along Junipero Serra Boulevard. 

The event was not unlike an academic poster session, with large boards on easels that illustrated the basics of natural gas production, and answered frequently asked questions about system safety.  Attendees also could have a utility representative print out an individualized map indicating the proximity of their homes to gas transmission pipelines.

Held in Paul Brest Hall in the Munger complex, the format of the open house was just that. There were no formal presentations or speeches. About nine PG&E representatives were on hand to respond to individual questions, which ranged from qualifications and experience of the crews conducting the tests to traffic mitigation issues. 

Hydrostatic testing

Hydrostatic testing will be conducted on Line 132, one of two high-pressure gas pipelines that run for more than a mile through Stanford land.  The testing of that line is required by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).  PG&E officials reiterated Monday that regardless of the outcome of the pressure testing on Line 132, they plan to replace it as well as the other one, Line 109, pending CPUC approval.

Although the testing was originally expected to begin earlier this month, officials said it is likely to begin at the end of July and take about a month to complete.

According to a letter sent to residents earlier this month, pressure testing is conducted to "validate a safe operating pressure for the pipeline and can also reveal weaknesses that could lead to defects and leaks."

It involves the following steps:

  • PG&E obtains all required work permits and coordinates activities with local agencies and university staff.
  • Gas is temporarily provided to customers from an alternate source.
  • The section of pipeline to be tested is temporarily removed from service and safely vented of all natural gas.
  • The inside is mechanically cleaned prior to testing.
  • The section is sealed on both ends and filled completely with water.
  • The pipeline is pressurized to a specified pressure greater than normal operating pressure.
  • The test pressure is held and monitored for at least eight hours.
  • If there is no significant loss of pressure, the section of pipeline is emptied of water, dried thoroughly and placed back into service.

PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said residents will be notified before several designated steps in the project. For instance, the day before the venting process, door hangers will be placed on the homes of nearby residents to notify them that they might smell gas in the area. Door-hanger notifications also will be made the day before the pressure testing is conducted and when the pipe is being put back together. 

"There will be crews on site monitoring the pressure and crews out walking the line to determine if there are any weaknesses," Chord said, adding that an additional communication will be sent to residents notifying them of the results of the pressure test.  

Google Fiber

While the hydrostatic testing has not yet begun, officials reported that the part of the Google Fiber project along Junipero Serra Boulevard has been completed.  The fiber-optic project being managed by a Google contractor is installing high-speed Internet infrastructure for about 800 campus homes.  That work, like all utilities work near PG&E's high-pressure gas mains, was coordinated with PG&E inspectors.

According to Tom Zigterman, associate director of water services and civil infrastructure at Stanford, the Google project finished the area that crossed the PG&E gas lines on Monday.  "A PG&E inspector was out there the whole time. One of my engineers was working with them and everything went fine," Zigterman said.

Forging a human connection

The open house was an opportunity for campus residents and PG&E officials to interact with each other on a personal level.

Richard Bitting, associate director of power systems at Stanford, said the event was good because it showed that PG&E is not a "faceless" utility company. "These are real people. If people feel like they are getting the straight story, it does wonders for helping them feel they are in the loop."

Jeannie Siegman, who lives on Junipero Serra Boulevard near Line 132 and Line 109, used the event as an opportunity to remind PG&E officials how vital their work is. She told PG&E account manager Eric Jansen, "We rely on you to do this effectively."

Residents who have questions or concerns about the pipeline work should call PG&E's gas hotline at (888) 743-7431.