Gas Explosion Avoidable?

by CalWatchdog Staff | September 10, 2010 10:26 am

Katy Grimes: With the horrid news last night that an entire neighborhood in San Bruno exploded, I was reminded that two years ago, my husband and I could smell natural gas in our kitchen – for months. Everyone who visited my house could smell natural gas in my kitchen.

I called PG&E several times to have them check out the gas smell. We assumed there was a gas leak. The service guy they finally sent had a bad attitude, and even denied smelling gas. He gave the kitchen a cursory check, and left.

But the gas smell continued. So I called PG&E again a couple of months later. They sent out the same guy. This time his attitude was worse. But I did not let it deter me, and insisted he remove my oven to check the gas line. I even cleaned out the cabinets below the stove so he could check the lines.

And still he declared that there was no gas leak and our house safe.

This persisted with two more service calls to PG&E insisting that the gas smell was getting more pronounced.

Finally, after trying to talk me out of believing there was a gas leak in my kitchen with every phone call I made, they sent out an angel… this guy was awesome. He should be PG&E’s employee of the year – a positive, upbeat, can-do attitude, but more importantly, he actually believed me when I told him about the gas smell.

And he smelled the gas.

He voluntarily pulled my oven out, sprayed soapy water on the gas line, it bubbled, and announced the location of the leak. It was a biggie. He had a replacement part in his truck, and within 45 minutes had the repair made and was gone… like the Lone Ranger.

A few months after our successful gas line repair, a house in Rancho Cordova exploded because of an inadequate PG&E pipe that had been used during a gas line repair which allowed gas to leak. The house explosion killed one man and injured several others.

Last night an explosion ripped through a San Bruno neighborhood, killing six people, sending at least 52 to the hospital, several news outlets[1] are reporting. One San Bruno Fire Chief said the explosion was caused by a high-pressure PG&E gas line.

Many of the surviving neighbors reported smelling gas for several weeks, and said they called PG&E to report the smell. Other neighbors interviewed said they have seen PG&E trucks in the area working on something.

Another story reports[2] that the California Public Utilities Commission had an investigator on the scene sifting through evidence and said they planned to continue gathering information for the next few days. That ought to make residents feel better.

What concerns me is that this appears to be a tragedy that could have been prevented. News reports are still sketchy about specifics on the cause, but the anger of residents and neighbors is coming through already, and rightfully so.

The Bay Citizen reports[3] that neighbors are angry that PG&E knew about the leak weeks before the explosion, and are already saying to one another that it could have been avoided.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, R-San Mateo, was quoted in the Bay Citizen story[4] that he was also “outraged” to learn that some residents had complained to PG&E about gas leaks in the neighborhood “for up to three weeks” before the explosion. Hill said the pipe that ruptured was installed in 1948. He vowed to work closely with the Public Utilities Commission to make sure that an investigation is conducted into the cause of the explosion.

Many people in the state will be watching and waiting for a response from PG&E, and the PUC. I certainly hope that San Bruno residents did not receive the kind of response that I got two years ago when complaining about my kitchen gas leak.

I am very fortunate that my kitchen didn’t explode, and am deeply saddened for those in San Bruno who tried to get a response from the gigantic utility, and now are suffering in ways I will never know.

Posted Sept. 10, 2010

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