E-Mail Forum
  Richmond Closer to Agreements on Underground Pipelines
September 9, 2010

Only a couple of days after the Richmond City Council adopted the first reading of a new comprehensive pipeline franchise ordinance, we are reminded of how potentially dangerous these hidden underground rivers of hazardous and explosive materials are as an entire San Bruno neighborhood is destroyed when a 60-year old high pressure gas pipeline blew up. Richmond is underlain and crisscrossed by multiple high pressure pipelines, including those shown on the National Pipeline Mapping System database. Most of these pipelines, like the one that blew up in San Bruno, are decades old and of questionable condition.

Although my original motivation for getting a pipeline ordinance was potential revenue for the City, my research uncovered the fact that all of Richmond’s outdated pipeline franchises had expired. This became as much a safety issue as a revenue issue. For some history, see:

Richmond Confidential - Richmond Council OKs Plan for New Pipeline Fees. June 24, 2010

Updating Pipeline Franchises Stymies City Attorney, April 23, 2008

Richmond Can't Find Pipeline Franchise Agreement, December 2, 2007

Secret Fuel Pipelines Crisscross Richmond, October 17, 2007

Richmond closer to agreements on underground pipelines

By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 09/08/2010 02:56:33 PM PDT

RICHMOND -- Richmond is getting closer to updating franchise agreements with companies that own and operate the network of pipelines running under city streets.
The City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance that creates a uniform method for issuing franchises, something the city lacked before. It also sets term limits, guidelines for maintenance and insurance requirements, among other provisions. The franchisee is liable for damages and repairs if a pipeline leaks, explodes or fails some other way.
Miles and miles of pipelines carrying electricity, natural gas, garbage and petroleum products run under the city's streets, but Councilman Tom Butt discovered that some franchise agreements had expired and hadn't been renewed. He also found the agreements were not consistent in their fees or requirements. The city did not have an organized way of maintaining the agreements or checking them to ensure they are up to date.
"We had a terrible mess to clean up," Butt said.
So the city hired consultants to help sort out the franchises and craft an ordinance. Officials are developing a schedule of fees and will bring it to the council for consideration later this year.
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.
Sep 9, 2010 9:58 pm US/Pacific



A massive fire burned out of control, incinerating more than a dozen homes and killing at least one person, as it roared through a mostly residential neighborhood in the hills of San Bruno following a loud gas explosion that shot a fireball more than 1,000 feet into the air on Thursday evening.

"We have at least one fatality," San Mateo County coroner Robert Foucrault confirmed.

San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag told CBS 5 that a natural gas line explosion likely caused the deadly blast that sent flames tearing through a neighborhood near Skyline Boulevard and San Bruno Avenue at 6:14 p.m.

"We believe it's a high-pressure gas line that's blown," Haag said. 

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman J.D. Guidi said the utility company had crews in the area investigating the possibility of a natural gas explosion, but added that it was too early to confirm the source of the blaze.

"I would like to say that our thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by the tragedy," Guidi said.

Witnesses said the blaze was preceded by a loud explosion and huge fireball.

Residents originally believed a plane had crashed in the area due to the sound and force of the explosion, but a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said he was unaware of any planes being unaccounted for.

Jane Porcelli, 62, who lives on the hill above where the fire is centered, said she thought she heard a plane overhead with a struggling engine.

"And then you heard this bang. And everything shook except the floor, so we knew it wasn't an earthquake," Porcelli said. "I feel helpless that I can't do anything. I just gotta sit by and watch." 
Victims suffering from serious burns began arriving at Bay Area hospitals shortly after the blast. A total estimate of the number of injured was not immediately available, but hospitals reported receiving at least four victims in critical condition but anticipated more.

A spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital said two patients -- a man and a woman -- were admitted there in critical condition, although the majority of the burn patients appeared to have been taken to the Kaiser Permanente's South San Francisco Medical Center.

Five victims suffering minor burns were also brought to the Mills Health Center in San Mateo, a hospital spokeswoman said.

After the blast, live video images from Chopper 5 showed over a dozen homes destroyed -- with flames reaching as high as 80 feet in the air as the fire fueled itself on the burning homes.

Planes and helicopters flew over the area dumping water in an effort to stanch the flames. Power appeared to be out in the middle-class neighborhood of 1960s-era homes near the corner of Crestmoore Avenue and Trenton Drive as the aircraft flew overhead.

A giant plume of smoke could be seen coming over the hill from the north side and heading down the Peninsula for as far as the eye could see.

Witnesses described seeing residents fleeing for safety and rushing to get belongings out of their burning homes. Traffic merging onto Interstate Highway 280 from the neighborhood was almost at a stand-still Thursday night as residents loaded cars with pets and carrying cases and tried to leave the area. 

Connie Bushman returned home to find her block was on fire. She said she ran into her house looking for her 80-year-old father but could not find him. A firefighter told her he had left, but she had not been able to track him down.

"I don't know where my father is, I don't know where my husband is, I don't know where to go," Bushman said.

Judy and Frank Serrsseque were walking down a hill away from the flames with a makeshift wagon carrying important documents, medication and three cats.

Judy Serrsseque said she heard an explosion, saw that fire was headed toward their home and knew they had to leave. As they fled, they said they saw people burned and people struggling to get their things out of burning houses.

"We got everything together, and we just got out," Judy Serrsseque. "Mostly we're wondering if we have a house to go back to."

Stephanie Mullen was attending children's soccer practice with her two children and husband at Crestmoor High School when she saw the blast.

"First, it was a low deep roar and everybody looked up, and we all knew something big was happening," she said. "Then there was a huge explosion with a ball of fire that went up behind the high school several thousand feet into the sky."

"Everybody grabbed their children and ran and put their children in their cars," Mullen continued. "It was very clear something awful had happened." 
Several minutes later, Mullen - who works as an Associated Press photographer - was three or four blocks away from the fire scene and said she could feel the heat of the blaze on her face.

"I could see families in the backyards of the homes next to where the fire was, bundling their children and trying to get them out of the backyards," she recounted.

She said people in the neighborhood were yelling, "This is awful," ''I live down there," and "My family is down there."
(© CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.)