Explosive ramifications

Pipeline explosion in San Bruno leads to possible reform

In the aftermath of last year’s Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, pipeline operators and their customers could end up paying big time.

If the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) can convince federal and state regulators to adopt its recent recommendations, operators will be forced to stop running thousands of miles of the nation’s oldest natural-gas pipelines without conducting costly high-pressure water tests required on modern pipelines, according to media sources. PG&E estimates the tests could run $500,000 per mile.

Another safety recommendation would convert the old pipelines to allow for a torpedo-shaped inspection tool—called a “smart pig”—to detect flaws such as faulty welds.

Under the NTSB guidelines, about half the nation’s natural-gas lines would require extensive reconstruction, costing billions that would be passed down to consumers.