High-Risk Gas Lines Closest to San Ramon Valley Run Through Livermore

After a deadly pipeline explosion destroyed a San Bruno neighborhood this month, many are trying to pinpoint where fuel lines are in their own region.

Pacific Gas & Electric, pressured by state regulators after the deadly Sept. 9 San Bruno gas line explosion, released a list Monday of its 100 most dangerous pipelines–none of which lie in the San Ramon Valley.

PG&E's ranking is based on the potential for corrosion, design flaws and third-party damage.  Topping the list of most-needed repairs were several sections of a petroleum pipeline that run through the Livermore Valley, part of which crosses the Calaveras Fault.

Neither of the two major transmission lines that run through Danville and San Ramon made the lineup.

PG&E's 30-inch San Bruno pipeline was No. 16 on the list, but not the part of the steel line that ruptured.

San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District Chief Richard Price said there are no pipelines like the one that exploded in San Bruno in his jurisdiction, which includes San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Blackhawk, Diablo and surrounding areas of unincorporated Contra Costa County.

"The size and the pressure of that line was a unique line," he said. "We don't have the same type of pipelines here."

Our underground energy highways
Locally, the biggest fuel line is a 10-inch pipeline that lies alongside the Iron Horse Trail, which spans Walnut Creek, Alamo, Danville and San Ramon. It carries gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Martinez to San Jose.

The high-pressure pipe, owned by Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners, carries fuel just feet away from schools, motels, homes and parks. Marked above-ground by orange-and-black signs, it's the same line that made headlines in 2004, when a backhoe struck a section of pipe in the heart of Walnut Creek, setting off an explosion that shot 60 feet into the air. The blast killed five workers and badly burned five others.

The Kinder-Morgan pipeline extends from Alamo through Danville, San Ramon and into Dublin along the old Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way. It then veers south past the Dublin-Pleasanton BART station and across Interstate 580, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

A second pipeline beneath the San Ramon and Tri-Valleys that runs through populated parts of San Ramon and on through Dublin and Pleasanton is a 12-inch natural gas line owned by PG&E.

The PG&E pipe travels from the heart of San Ramon by Dougherty and Crow Canyon roads to Dublin through the east side of Dougherty Road and south to Eighth Street at Camp Parks in Dublin. The pressurized line meanders through Dublin and eventually heads east to Livermore on the south side of Interstate 580.

Exact information hard to find
The routes aren't exact on a street-to-street scale. To find more accurate information, you have to do a little research.

Despite the potential threat to public safety, it's tough to pin down an accurate map of these energy carriers, or to get reliable information about the age and condition of the 122,217 miles of fuel lines that, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, course through California.

Though federal agencies share approximate locations of the vast network of pipelines crisscrossing the nation through the online National Pipeline Mapping System, more specific data is kept under wraps in the name of national security. Public outcry and media scrutiny may change that, said city and regional planning expert John Radke, of UC Berkeley's Department of Landscape, Architecture and Environmental Planning.

"After San Bruno, I am sure that gas line companies will have to disclose their locations," he wrote in an e-mail to San Ramon Patch this week. "This may have serious consequences for safety and the diminution of property values. Interesting times ahead."

The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District has maps of high-risk areas, including pipelines, which are used in an emergency to assesss danger and the best response, said agency spokeswoman Kim French.

In Northern California, anyone who plans to excavate an area can call 811 to find out what company or public agency owns a pipeline on a given property.

USA North, which supports the underground alert service, says it is incomplete because it provides information about fuel lines on a specific property only, not others that might run by it.

For the broader view, you have to use the national map, which doesn't show smaller pipelines.

PG&E customers can call the utility to find out how close they live or work to a transmission line but, again, the answer won't be exact. Customers are referred to the national mapping system.

The company has refused to share more information about its 5,722 miles of transmission lines for security reasons. But the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday demanded a list of PG&E's 100 planned high-priority pipeline repairs, which it just released, and also ordered the utility to check its pressurized gas lines for leaks.

Preparing for the worst
Price said his district hasn't prepared for a blast such as that in San Bruno, adding that now  the firefighters may focus their training on how to repond to a pipeline explosion.

Price said he has discussed the explosion with Jennifer Price, a member of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District Board of Directors and firefighter and engineer with the Millbrae Fire Department who was among the emergency repsonders dispatched to San Bruno for several days after the explosion.

In addition to first responders, city engineers are trying to learn more about the pipelines beneath their municipalities. In San Ramon, city engineers and planners have only a rough idea of where they lie. They have to wait for a specific construction project before asking utility companies for the location of each transmission line.

"The city [of San Ramon] has contacted the utility company to get a comprehensive map of pipelines within the city, however we have not received it as yet," said city of San Ramon spokeswoman Cheryl Wade.

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