Tracy Mayor Brent Ives and councilwomen Suzanne Tucker and Evelyn Tolbert have decided it’s an acceptable risk to let our children play at the old federal antenna farm because of their faith in pipeline internal inspection devices, sometimes called “smart pigs.”
The leaders of the pipeline industry understand that technology is far from infallible and there is a risk of explosion of the three large pipelines governed by the Department of Transportation (through Title 49, the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002, and House Resolution 5782 — the Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of 2006, signed by President Bush on Dec. 29).
Population density estimates for a youth sports facility move the pipelines from a category 1 to a category 3 and would normally require an upgrade or replacement of the pipes, if not for a rules waiver obtained by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. from the state Public Utilities Commission at the behest of the Tracy City Council and the urging of former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy.
Congress heard testimony from the leaders of the pipeline industry while crafting the Pipeline Safety Act and more recently with House Resolution 3929, the Energy Pipeline Research, Development and Demonstration Act. That bill provides funding and mechanisms for research and development of pipeline inspection and security. All acknowledged the limitations of pipeline internal inspection devices and the need for a real time pipeline-monitoring program to safeguard the nation’s pipelines from terrorist attacks and other intentional or accidental breaches.
“The need for better detection, inspection and integrity management techniques and technologies cannot be overstated,” testified Terry Boss, vice president of Environment, Safety and Operations for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. “The most common type of pipeline incident, in which an excavator unintentionally damages a pipeline while using a backhoe or bulldozer, is also the most deadly (about 80 percent of pipeline-related fatalities) and is difficult to prevent. While systems and processes exist to prevent this damage, additional research is needed to improve location, detection, notification and assessment techniques. While almost all excavation damage failures (80 percent) occur at that time, some cases occur where damage is covered up and goes undetected until a later failure. It is desirable to first prevent excavation damage from occurring, second to identify it is impending, third to notify parties that it has occurred and finally assess the impact of the damage.”
Terry Felt, president of Explorer Pipeline Corp., on behalf of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines testified to the need for “improving the oil pipeline leak detection, especially the detection of small leaks” and “developing improved methods for surveillance of pipeline rights of way.” He stressed the need for real-time monitoring of pipelines with “satellite-based remote imaging technology, both radar and optical, in combination with image processing techniques and pipeline GIS capabilities, has the potential to provide real-time intrusion detection warnings with greater reliability and lower cost than conventional visual or camera-based aerial patrols.”
Dr. Nirmal Chatterjee, vice president of environmental, health, safety and corporate engineering, for Air Products and Chemicals Inc., told Congress with respect to existing regulations for pipeline size, “In general, because people tend to dig up pipes, inadvertently we feel that thicker walls than specified … is called for.”
He addressed the inadequacy of smart pigs by stating, “Some pipeline integrity programs — such as pigging — provide a one-time reading of defects on a pipeline. The abnormalities that are identified then need to be addressed. Pigging can be a very useful safety practice, but it does not provide protection from outside force such as excavation work or even malicious acts.”
Because Pombo, the City Council and the Youth Sports Alliance of Tracy insisted on locating the youth sports park at the antenna farm, PG & E requested a waiver of Title 49 Pipeline Safety requirements to forego either reducing the pipeline pressure or replacing it with a thicker pipeline by substituting a safety plan that relies on smart pigging and foot patrol surveillance. But the pipeline experts have essentially said smart pigging isn’t smart enough and a regular foot patrol won’t control accidental or intentional external force to the pipelines.
If it’s not good enough for Boss, Felt and Chaterjee, it’s not good enough for me. The recent natural gas explosion and fire in a Tracy apartment complex should foster a greater sense of caution. The pipeline explosion in Houston caused by a backhoe operator that made front doors two miles away too hot to touch should cause a great deal of alarm. It’s never too late to admit you’ve made an error in judgment and change course.
Tracy is land-rich, and better, safer and healthier sites exist for our kids; Let’s give them the best we have to offer.
Tracy resident Carole Dominguez, an opponent of a Schulte Road youth sports park, has filed a complaint with the state Public Utilities Commission about the pipeline waiver of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.