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CPUC Dismisses Whistleblower Allegations Regarding PG&E Pipe Welds

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Two whistleblower allegations regarding Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s (PG&E) pipeline welding work were dismissed Sept. 5 following an investigation by the Consumer Protection and Safety Division of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

Photo courtesy of PG&E
Post natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno in 2010.
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According to a CPUC statement, commission staff found “no instances in which welds were not inspected in compliance with federal and state gas pipeline safety regulations.”

CPUC staff launched the investigation in February when the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters, and Steamfitters Local Union Nos. 246 and 342 made a filing in the CPUC’s case to set new rules for the safe and reliable operation of natural gas pipelines in California. The allegations in the filing included that certain welds performed by PG&E on specific gas pipeline segments were problematic, that a non-independent process was used to inspect welds in PG&E’s pipeline hydro-testing program, and that there was extensive corrosion and cracked coatings on the exterior surface of certain pipelines.

The two whistleblowers, who were encouraged by the commission to report any potential “unlawful or dishonest activities by any regulated utility,” were Marshall Worland and Mike Mikich. Worland reported observations he made while working for CANUS Corp., Norco, Calif.  Worland’s testimony alleges that pipe installed from 1949 had weld quality “that would not meet today’s standards” and that PG&E welders were “too slow,” which would not meet pre-heating standard procedures for quality welds. In August 2011, following a PG&E request, CANUS removed Worland from the program for insubordination and improper documentation of process steps, according the the CPUC report.

Mikich alleged that he and his co-workers saw defective welds and corroded pipe "that appear to be extremely hazardous." Mikich was a business representative for the local in February 2012 when his allegations were released in a report to the CPUC. He later stated in live testimony to the commission that his observations were made while working on the program for ARB Inc., Lake Forest, for two months in the spring of 2011. Mikich joined the local in November 2011. 

In order to investigate the charges of poor welds, the CPUC in March required PG&E to excavate two locations on its transmission line 153 in San Leandro and found no abnormalities. Other excavations and hydro-tests were conducted on other PG&E natural gas pipelines in subsequent months.

Based on its investigation, CPUC says its staff did not find any instances in which welds were not inspected in compliance with federal and state gas pipeline safety regulations. Further, CPUC says it found that PG&E is evaluating defects when they are found, and that any significant defects are cut out of the line.

This is the second update of an earlier story. The initial story mischaracterized the current affiliations of the two whistleblowers.

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