Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fatal blast bringing tight new rules or Better Investigators - Three persons near this fire deceased.

By PETE BENNETT - Contra Costa Watch EMAIL
Phone: 510-460-5641
Posted: 06/13/2013

Reposted to Protect My Sons


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WALNUT CREEK / Fatal blast bringing tight new rules / Lawmaker says buried utility lines need better marking

Published 4:00 am, Saturday, June 11, 2005






After a Senate committee hearing Friday into November's fuel-line blast in Walnut Creek that killed five workers, state Sen. Tom Torlakson said he will push for tighter laws regulating how hazardous underground utilities are marked and how construction crews can avoid them.
Current methods of protecting utilities are "very ad hoc, and that's not right. That's not safe," Torlakson, D-Antioch, said after the two-hour meeting at Walnut Creek City Hall.
Workers who mark utilities may require special certification and should employ more advanced technology than they currently use, Torlakson said, echoing suggestions made by some speakers. He also suggested that fines levied for accidents may need to be heftier.
It was the first public hearing since the Nov. 9 blast, in which a backhoe operator installing an East Bay Municipal Utility District water main hit a buried fuel line, releasing a stream of gas ignited by nearby welders.
The catastrophe has prompted several investigations, a raft of lawsuits and calls for new laws. Officials from workplace safety regulator Cal/OSHA appearing at Friday's hearing said they would consider new laws and regulations after consulting a panel of state and industry experts next month.
"The thing that stands out about this incident is its disturbing simplicity," said Len Welsh, acting director of Cal/OSHA. "We need a system that is resilient to human performance errors."
Cal/OSHA last month blamed Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, saying it failed to mark a bend in its fuel line. It issued the firm two "willful" violations -- the stiffest possible penalty -- and fined it $140,000, while the utility district, the contractor and a mapping firm received "serious" citations.
Kinder Morgan officials, who say they properly marked the line and provided maps showing the bend that was struck, are appealing the ruling. Company officials did not attend the hearing, but sent a letter saying the firm -- which operates 10,000 miles of pipelines in 21 states -- is "retaining additional third-party expertise concerning line marking practices, " providing more training and education and buying "state of the art line locating equipment."
Currently, state law requires Bay Area excavators, before digging, to call a nonprofit service that in turn contacts the owners of any nearby underground pipelines and utilities. Those owners must locate and mark their lines or advise workers of their location. Should those workers approach the line, they must dig by hand to expose it and protect it.
But Torlakson, EBMUD General Manager Dennis Diemer and others asked why there are no rules specifying exactly when utility owners should, for example, use paint to mark the path of a line or dig "potholes" that expose the line from the surface.
Mark Breslin, executive director of the Engineering and Utility Contractors Association, which represents about 400 companies, said the Walnut Creek explosion was "only a symptom of a recurring and pervasive problem in marking utilities in the state."
Also at the meeting, state Fire Marshal Ruben Grijalva said his pipeline safety division was within two weeks of issuing its report on the Walnut Creek blast. He said his investigators also believe it was caused by "the line not being properly marked" and could seek fines up to $500,000.
"There was enough regulation and legislation in place so that this should not have happened," Grijalva said. "It just wasn't followed."

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