PG&E Blamed For Yuba City House Explosion

YUBA CITY (CBS13) – A lengthy investigation into a house explosion found that PG&E violated federal regulations.

It happened back in January when a natural gas explosion blew a home on South George Washington Boulevard to bits and injured two people.

“John was blown out the other side of the house. His girlfriend was in there, and he went in to get her out,” said John Reitnauer who lives next door.

John Lee Clark suffered severe burns, and the blast nearly wiped out the neighbor’s homes.

“I looked out the window and this huge massive ball of flames that I’ve never seen, as big as the room,” Reitnauer said.

Prior to the January blast, the property had a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1400 square foot home with a boat and a garage. In a matter of seconds, it was unrecognizable sending both John Lee and his girlfriend Ravin Skondin to the hospital.

“Ravin was actually in the shower, which probably saved her life,” said Doug Adams, the couple’s attorney. “They’re struggling; I mean not doing well. Their world was turned upside down.”

In addition to severe burns, his client needs surgery and is unable to work.

“Everything he had owned and everything he had worked for his entire life was destroyed, so it’s very traumatic,” Adams said.

The California Public Utilities Commission found the direct cause was the faulty installation of a pipeline done by PG&E in the early 1970s.

“The leak source appeared to be a butt fusion joint south of the service tee of the affected home,” the report read. “Based on CPUC’s investigation, CPUC determined that the pipeline was not installed so that the joint involved in the incident could sustain the anticipated internal loading. In addition, the weld had a lack of weld bead and a portion of the surface plane failed to contact the heater plate sufficiently to melt. Therefore, PG&E is in violation of Federal Regulations.”

Since the incident, PG&E has replaced nearly a mile of piping through this neighborhood and continues to do regular checks for leaks.

While John Lee continues to heal from the explosion that rocked his life, Reitnauer said his neighbor will be back.

“When this finally settles he’ll come out here and rebuild again he said,” he said.

The report estimates the blast caused more than $350,000 in damages.

It’s unclear at this point if a settlement will be reached with the victims or if they’ll instead, head to court.

Below is a statement from PG&E regarding the incident:

PG&E on-the-record statements: Greg Snapper, PG&E spokesperson

  • Public safety and the safety of our workforce is always our highest priority. We are reviewing the CPUC’s report that we were provided with earlier today. We want our customers to know that we have been hard at work since the incident occurred in January. Our safety actions include regular leak inspections of our entire natural gas system using the best technology available, rapid response to gas odors, replacement of pipe and finding and fixing leaks.
  • We are reviewing the CPUC’s report. With the findings of this report integrated into our daily operations, we remain committed to the safety of each customer in Yuba City, and the safe operation of our gas system.
  • We want our customers in Yuba City and across our service area to know we have been hard at work since the incident occurred in January. Our safety actions include:
    • Pipe replacement – nearly one mile of new plastic pipe was installed in the impacted Yuba City neighborhood.
    • Regular leak inspections in Yuba City and across our entire system using the best technology available.
    • Rapid response to any odor call we receive – our crews respond within 20 minutes when a customer reports a gas odor to our call center.
    • Third party engineering firm Exponent was immediately brought in to conduct a thorough investigation. Exponent determined the following root cause:
  • A leak was identified by PG&E approximately 75 feet from the home on the main pipeline.
  • Exponent determined during its investigation that weakness of two joining pieces of pipe caused a gas leak on January 12, 2017.
  • No external factors contributed to the pipeline ultimately leaking. Steady gas pressure over time, called slow crack growth, is the main reason for the leak. The leak allowed gas to migrate underground to the house and an ignition source ignited gas from the leak causing the home fire.
  • Exponent also determined that the weakness within the pipe connections was never discovered because the pipe passed all pressure testing when it was installed in 1973. No gas leaked until after PG&E’s most recent gas leak survey in June 2015.
  • Exponent tested multiple joints cut out of the pipeline and looked for signs of the same fusion issue and did not find any issues. (16 of the lines 113 joints were cut out, a statistically significant sample) -Source: page 109 in Exponent report (you’ll have to secure the actual report from the Commission)
  • We reviewed the leak records for the gas distribution system for fusion-related leaks. We looked at each one to see what trends or information could indicate potential fusion issues. We’re using this to inform our system-wide inspection and pipeline replacement program.
  • Leaks that appear to be a sign of fusion joints are further investigated and action taken to keep families and businesses safe.
  • Today, PG&E practices an intensive operator qualifications program overseen by the CPUC that ensures every gas worker performing pipeline installations is properly trained in the area of pipe fusions, among other required duties.
More from Jennifer McGraw
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