Oak Park briefed on gas line safetyBy Sylvie Belmond
An explosion similar to the one that occurred in San Bruno last September is not likely to occur in the Conejo Valley, a representative of Southern California Gas Co. told local officials last week.
The Sept. 9 natural gas explosion killed four people and devastated the Northern California community.
Although the rupture involved a Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline, it prompted officials from Oak Park to seek assurance from Sempra Energy-the owner of Southern California Gas-that a similar rupture won't happen locally.
Mike Green of the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council said the purpose of the discussion was to let people know that the gas company is monitoring high pressure pipelines that run underneath Oak Park.
"I think what happened in San Bruno is one in a million. But hopefully (the gas company is) checking the pipelines and doing everything right to protect residents," Green said.
Southern California Gas serves about 20 million customers from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.
The company owns and maintains 4,000 miles of high-pressure gas transmission lines, 48,000 miles of distribution lines and 49,000 miles of service lines delivering natural gas to institutions and homes.
"We've been around for 140 years, and we've never had a major incident like in San Bruno," said Michele Pettes, a spokesperson for Southern California Gas.
"That was a devastating accident. It brought up questions about natural gas pipeline safety," Pettes said.
Pettes, who lives in Westlake Village, pointed out where the local pipelines are and discussed safety procedures used by her company to prevent accidents.
A large pipelines runs underneath Kanan Road and splits into two sections near Medea Creek Park. One of the lines goes below parkland and toward the 101 Freeway and Mureau Road in Calabasas. Another continues to Mae Boyar Park and then west under Satinwood Avenue, Conifer Street and Smoketree Avenue. A different transmission line runs below Hidden Hills.
Pettes said her company monitors pressure flow daily to detect changes and make sure the lines are sound. Large pipes are inspected for leaks every year. Approximately once every seven years there's a check for corrosion, fissures and weaknesses that could compromise the lines. The lines are also cleaned.
"Every inch of our pipeline is examined by our crews. We have a pipeline integrity program, and we're mandated to inspect the pipelines on an ongoing basis," Pettes said.
The gas company has regional centers to respond to calls regarding gas leaks and to manage operations in the aftermath of a disaster such as earthquakes. The nearest center is in Chatsworth.
"If there is an incident, such as a broken pipe, our response time is pretty instantaneous," Pettes said.
Ventura County Fire Department Capt. Anthony Romero of Station 36 attended the MAC meeting to hear Pettes' presentation and answer questions.
"If you're in your house and you do smell gas, get out of the house. Then call the fire department or the gas company," Romero said.
The fire captain said his department responds to the calls with at least one engine to make sure that residents are safe.
"In catastrophic leaks, we first evacuate residents in the immediate area and those who live downwind from it," Romero said.
Although people think it's safer to shut off gas after a disaster, Pettes said, "Unless you smell gas, leave your gas meter alone."
She said the gas company has been working to keep residents informed about gas safety through workshops and other information outlets.
"We don't anticipate major problems but understand that the San Bruno incident makes people uncomfortable, so we've been hosting meetings with city managers, elected officials and first responders to keep them informed," Pettes said.
The gas company recently posted maps on its website to show the approximate location of high-pressure lines. Crews will mark the location of underground lines when digging is anticipated.
The California Public Utilities Commission regulates natural gas companies, which also abide by rules set by the National Transportation Safety Board and California Department of Transportation.
During a recent meeting, Calabasas officials expressed concerns about the lines that run through their city. They plan to host a similar gas safety informational workshop soon.
Copyright ©2010 Agoura Hills Acorn. Published 11/04/2010.