PG&E's controlled gas release surprises cityBy Jesse Dungan
Three South Palo Alto schools were evacuated Wednesday morning after Pacific Gas & Electric Co. apparently failed to properly notify the city it was conducting a controlled release of natural gas in the area, officials said.
PG&E crews released the gas between 10 and 11 a.m. as part of an effort to assess the structural integrity of a transmission pipe that runs through Palo Alto and Mountain View, utility spokesman Matt Nauman said.
The release was related to work PG&E is conducting on the Peninsula following the fatal explosion and fire in San Bruno on Sept. 9, Nauman said. Eight people died and 35 homes were obliterated when a transmission line there ruptured.
According to Nauman, PG&E gave Palo Alto and Mountain View a heads-up about the possibility of a gas odor. Palo Alto, however, didn't register the warning until its call centers were swamped with reports of a gas leak and JLS, Palo Verde and El Carmello schools were evacuated.
PG&E apparently sent an e-mail notification to just one city employee late Tuesday afternoon, said Palo Alto Utilities Department Director Valerie Fong.
"This one was not well coordinated and that was rather unfortunate," Fong said, adding that she spoke with PG&E and it agreed to work more closely with the city going forward.
The Palo Alto Fire Department responded to the reports of a gas leak, said Acting Battalion Chief Chris Jackson. Students were allowed to return to class after firefighters learned the odor was due to PG&E's work.
City officials said another controlled release of natural gas is scheduled to take place shortly before 6 a.m. today. For more information, visit www.cityofpaloalto.org.
According to Nauman, PG&E crews are removing part of a transmission line to insert a camera to assess the pipe. Gas needs to be vented to safely access the interior of the pipe. He said it is a "very safe" procedure and the gas dissipates into the atmosphere.
Copyright ©2010 Palo Alto Daily News. Published 11/04/2010.