We are wrapping up our discussion of the San Bruno pipeline accident. Around this time last year, a section of gas pipeline gave way and exploded. That explosion sent a plume of fire 1,000 feet into the air, and that fire took a terrible toll. It could happen here in Oregon, too.

A couple of weeks ago, the National Transportation Safety Board released the results of its year-long investigation into the accident. The report lists a series of failures at both the utility and the state regulatory agency that contributed to the accident. The NTSB made more than 40 safety improvement recommendations to the utility during the investigation.

Pacific Gas & Electric claims that management has spent the last year working to improve its natural gas operations. The utility has overhauled both operations and management practices, according to a representative. He added that PG&E is committed to the safety of the public, customers and employees.

The accident may have sent a wakeup call to lawmakers, too. Congress is considering new safety measures, and the mayor of San Bruno intends to be a most vocal proponent. One measure in particular could have saved houses and, perhaps, lives: automatic shut-off valves.

The San Bruno pipeline did not have an automatic shut-off. The wall of fire that followed the explosion was gas-fed. With a shut-off, the gas would have shut down within seconds of the blast. The fire would have burned for 10 minutes, experts say.

Instead, the fire continued as workers struggled to cut the gas supply. An hour and a half went by before they found the shut-off. In that time, 55 homes were damaged — 38 of them completely destroyed — and dozens of people were injured. And, of course, eight people died.

Source: Post & Courier, “NTSB faults PG&E, regulators in gas explosion,” Joan Lowy and Matthew Brown, Aug. 31, 2011