We’re going to take a quick break on our series on Creating High Impact Designs to discuss this recent event.
While no injuries were reported, San Francisco’s recent Castro District gas leak lead to a number of disruptive home/business evacuations, street closures and delays in Muni Metro service last Thursday. The leak began when a private contractor nicked a high-pressure gas line with his backhoe, and occurred on the heels of an early Oct. San Bruno pipeline explosion (which destroyed 37 homes, left eight dead and injured 52 others). Unfortunately, as pipelines around the country become obsolete and potentially dangerous, many utility companies simply don’t
have the infrastructure to support inspections, maintenance and repairs. In addition, because of a loophole in CA state law (The Rules of the Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, California Code of Regulations, Title 16, Division 5, §424, ¶1), employees of public utilities or corporations may practice engineering without a license, since utilities and industrial corporations are not required to use licensed engineers.
By hiring employees with a lack of engineering expertise, utility companies put the public at great risk. In our opinion, the use of licensed engineers from independent third parties could minimize future gas line concerns, safeguard city residents and ensure that utility companies receive an unbiased report on equipment maintenance requirements.
As we reported in a previous blog about gas line safety, San Bruno utility spokespeople said that the failed pipeline had not yet reached the “critical” list, which means that there are other pressurized gas lines that could be even more corroded—and more dangerous. Area overhauls are not expected to take place until 2014, making area residents increasingly concerned for the safety of their families and property.
As the utilities infrastructure begins to fail, as it has recently in the San Francisco area, we hope that the powers-that-be begin to realize that even if we can’t afford to replace or service all aging gas lines, pipelines and other utility equipment, we must at least begin monitoring them using cost-effective fiber optics, wireless communication and remote electronic gear. Public safety depends on it. The infrastructure to provide even the location of gas lines to relevant contractors does not seem to be in place, as evidenced by the Castro District gas leak. The availability of online CAD drawings showing the location of the gas lines would be a good start for both contractors who must work around the lines, and the general public. Google can map much of our planet, but PG&E does not seem to be able to provide maps of their gas lines.
Need a utilities consultant? The Glew Engineering Consulting team has decades of experience in power generation, gas management and handling, pressure vessel design and fiber optic technology, as well as mechanical, electrical and finite element analysis (FEA) expertise. Our team has analyzed destructive property fires and a variety of utility equipment failures, and used our technical knowledge to enhance resident and employee