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Gas explosion and blaze on major San Francisco boulevard is latest blow for PG&E

07 February 2019

California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) faced up to the latest in a string of safety incidents on February 6 when a leak from a gas pipe ignited on a major thoroughfare in San Francisco causing a large blast and fire that consumed at least five buildings. An evacuation order was imposed for people within a block of the site but there were no reports of casualties.

The state’s largest utility has experienced a number of incidents that led the company to declare bankruptcy last week. PG&E faces as much as $30 billion in liabilities from deadly wildfires that its equipment may have ignited in 2017 and 2018 and the it is still dealing with the consequences of the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

Local media quoted the fire department as saying that in this incident, on Geary Boulevard, workers may have struck a gas distribution pipeline while installing fibre-optic equipment beneath the street.

Bloomberg said the US Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates pipeline safety, is gathering information on the blast to determine whether it will dispatch investigators.

In the first six years after the San Bruno explosion, PG&E installed more than 230 automatic or remote-controlled valves on its natural gas transmission network, so workers would not need to manually shut off the flow of gas in an emergency. The company also replaced all the remaining cast-iron pipes in its system with modern plastic and steel pipes.

But the gas line involved in this fire was part of PG&E’s distribution network, a complex web of pipes smaller than the transmission line that exploded beneath San Bruno, that rarely have automatic or remote-controlled valves, according to Bloomberg.

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