Tag Archives: failing infrastructure

Space Junk Collision Could Set Off Catastrophic Chain Reaction, Disable Earth Communications

Pentagon: A Space Junk Collision Could Set Off Catastrophic Chain Reaction, Disable Earth Communications | Popular Science.

 

Orbital Debris The dots on this NASA-generated chart represent known pieces of large orbital debris. NASA

Every now and again someone raises a stern warning about the amount of space junk orbiting Earth. Those warnings are usually met with general indifference, as very few of us own satellites or travel regularly to low Earth orbit. But the DoD’s assessment of the space junk problem finds that perhaps we should be paying attention: space junk has reached a critical tipping point that could result in a cataclysmic chain reaction that brings everyday life on Earth to a grinding halt.

Our reliance on satellites goes beyond the obvious. We depend on them for television signals, the evening weather report, and to find our houses on Google Earth when we’re bored at work. But behind the scenes, they also inform our warfighting capabilities, keep track of the global shipping networks that keep our economies humming, and help us get to the places we need to get to via GPS.

According to the DoD’s interim Space Posture Review, that could all come crashing down. Literally. Our satellites are sorely outnumbered by space debris, to the tune of 370,000 pieces of junk up there versus 1,100 satellites. That junk ranges from nuts and bolts lost during spacewalks to pieces of older satellites to whole satellites that no longer function, and it’s all whipping around the Earth at a rate of about 4.8 miles per second.

The fear is that with so much junk already up there, a collision is numerically probable at some point. Two large pieces of junk colliding could theoretically send thousands more potential satellite killers into orbit, and those could in turn collide with other pieces of junk or with satellites, unleashing another swarm of debris. You get the idea.

To give an idea of how quickly a chain reaction could get out hand consider this: in February of last year a defunct Russian satellite collided with a communications satellite, turning 2 orbiting craft into 1,500 pieces of junk. The Chinese missile test that obliterated a satellite in 2007 spawned 100 times more than that, scattering 150,000 pieces of debris.

If a chain reaction got out of control up there, it could very quickly sever our communications, our GPS system (upon which the U.S. military heavily relies), and cripple the global economy (not to mention destroy the $250 billion space services industry), and whole orbits could be rendered unusable, potentially making some places on Earth technological dead zones.

'Massive jobs shortfall' predicted for global economy

‘Massive jobs shortfall’ predicted for global economy | Business | guardian.co.uk.

‘Massive jobs shortfall’ predicted for global economy

International Labour Organisation said the group of developing and developed nations had seen 20m jobs disappear since the financial crisis in 2008

International Labour Organisation (ILO) director general, Juan Somavia

‘We must act now to reverse the slow-down in employment growth,’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) director general, Juan Somavia, Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA

The world’s major economies are heading for a “massive jobs shortfall” by the end of next year if governments do not change their tack on policy, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said in a study published on Monday.

In the report, prepared with the OECD for G20 labour ministers meeting in Paris on Monday, the ILO said the group of developing and developed nations had seen 20m jobs disappear since the financial crisis in 2008.

At current rates it would be impossible to recover them in the near term and there was a risk of the number doubling by the end of next year, it said.

“We must act now to reverse the slowdown in employment growth and make up for the jobs lost,” ILO director general Juan Somavia said in a statement.

“Employment creation has to become a top macroeconomic priority.”

The number of people in work in the G20 has risen by 1% since 2010, but 1.3% annual growth is needed to return to pre-crisis employment levels by 2015, the ILO said.

“However, employment growth of less than 1% cannot be excluded given the slowdown of the world economy and the anaemic growth foreseen in several G20 countries,” the report said. “Should employment grow at a rate of 0.8% until end 2012, now a distinct possibility, then the shortfall in employment would increase by some 20m to a total of 40m in G20 countries.”

India and China, the world’s most populous countries, were both laggards with less than 1% annual growth in total employment, the report said, so an extra push for jobs could have a major impact on the G20.

However, the report was based on figures for both countries that were not up to date. China’s jobs growth of 0.7% was for 2009, while India’s 0.4% was the average annual change between 2004-2005 and 2009-2010.

After stripping out India, China and Saudi Arabia, which also used 2009 data, employment growth in the other 17 countries was 1.5%, according to a Reuters calculation based on data in the ILO report.

The latest figures for other G20 countries show four with growth rates below 1%, namely Italy, France, South Africa and the United States, while two others – Japan and Spain – have seen a fall in total employment in the past year.

Since the beginning of 2008, Spain, South Africa and the United States had experienced the biggest falls in employment among the G20 countries. Spain and the United States also saw the biggest rises in unemployment rates, followed by Britain.

Cancer cost 'crisis' warning from oncologists

BBC News – Cancer cost ‘crisis’ warning from oncologists.

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The cost of treating cancer in the developed world is spiralling and is “heading towards a crisis”, an international team of researchers says.

Their Lancet Oncology report says there is a “culture of excess” with insufficient evidence about the “value” of new treatments and technologies.

It says the number of cancer patients and the cost of treating each one is increasing.

It argues for reducing the use and analysing the cost of cancer services.

About 12 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer each year. That figure is expected to reach 27 million by 2030.

The cost of new cancer cases is already estimated to be about £185bn ($286bn) a year.

Rising costs

A group of 37 leading experts from around the world say the burden of cancer is growing and becoming a major financial issue.

Start Quote

We’re on an unaffordable trajectory”

Prof Richard Sullivan Lead author

Their report says most developed countries dedicate between 4% and 7% of their healthcare budgets to dealing with cancer.

“The issue that concerns economists and policymakers is not just the amount of money spent on healthcare, but also the rate of increase in healthcare spending or what has become known as the cost curve.”

It says the UK’s total spend on breast cancer has increased by about 10% in each of the past four years.

“In general, increases in the cost of healthcare are driven by innovation. We spend more because we can do more to help patients.”

For example, the number of cancer drugs available in the UK has risen from 35 in the 1970s to nearly 100, but the report warns they can be “exceedingly expensive”.

It adds: “Few treatments or tests are clear clinical winners, with many falling into the category of substantial cost for limited benefit.”

The cost of drugs is not the only target for criticism.

Lead author Prof Richard Sullivan told the BBC: “It’s not just pharmaceuticals. Biomarkers, imaging and surgery are all getting through with very low levels of evidence – the hurdles are set too low.”

The report calls for a proper evaluation of the relative merits of conventional surgery and less invasive robotic surgery.

Too much

Another criticism is “overusing” treatments and technologies.

Personalised Medicine

All cancers are not the same, even all breast or lung cancers are not the same.

It is hoped that better testing will bring about an era of “personalised medicine”, meaning drugs can be tailored to specific cancers.

In Japan, testing for the KRAS gene in colorectal cancer patients before deciding whether to use a cancer drug saves £32m per year.

However, the report says that on the whole “the science has not lived up to the promise”.

“It is often easier to order a scan than to reassure the patient or physician on the basis of a careful history and a physical examination,” the report claims.

There is also criticism of “futile care” – providing expensive chemotherapy which gives no medical benefit in the last few weeks of a patient’s life.

Prof Sullivan said: “We’re on an unaffordable trajectory. We either need to manage and reduce the costs or the cost will increase and then inequality rises between rich and poor.”

He said failure to manage costs could result in a “train crash”.

The report says solutions fall into two categories: reducing the cost of services or reducing the number of people using them.

Satellite problem causes phone and Internet outage

Satellite problem causes phone and Internet outage – North – CBC News.

Posted: Oct 6, 2011 9:56 AM CT

Last Updated: Oct 6, 2011 10:15 AM CT

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A malfunctioning satellite is affecting long distance telephone and Internet service in communities across the north.

Northwestel said all communities across Nunavut, N.W.T. and Yukon that receive their long distance calling and data service via satellite are affected by the outage, which began at about 6:30 a.m. ET.

People in Iqaluit are reporting they are without cell phone service and long-distance calling, bank machines and debit-card machines. At least one bank in the city has not opened today as a result. Flights are also being delayed.

The service disruption appears to be due to problems Telesat is having with its Anik F2 satellite.

At the present time, the satellite is pointing in the wrong direction, away from the Earth.

Telesat is working to regain proper Earth lock, which may take 12 to 18 hours.

Huge blackout takes down Southern California, Mexican border

Huge blackout hits Southern California, Mexican border | Reuters.

Traffic and pedestrians move through a powerless intersection following a power outage in Cardiff, California, September 8, 2011. REUTERS-Mike Blake

Traffic and pedestrians move through a powerless intersection following a power outage in Cardiff, California, September 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

SAN DIEGO | Fri Sep 9, 2011 9:22am EDT

(Reuters) – A massive blackout caused by “human failure” left nearly 5 million people without power in parts of California, Arizona and Mexico on Thursday, and officials said many residents may be out of service for a day or more.

The outage, apparently triggered by an employee who carried out a procedure at a substation in Arizona, snarled traffic on Southern California freeways, knocked out water supplies in parts of San Diego County and Tijuana and sent some elderly residents to emergency rooms.

San Diego International Airport canceled all outbound flights, traffic came to a standstill as the city’s street lights quit and about 70 people had to be rescued by the city’s fire department from stalled elevators.

San Diego schools were ordered closed until Monday as utilities could not guarantee they would be able to turn on the lights in classrooms.

“There was a very major outage, a region-wide outage,” San Diego Gas and Electric President Mike Niggli said. “There’s no doubt this has never happened before to our system.”

But police in California’s second-largest city, located between Los Angeles and the Mexican border, reported no major problems, and hospitals successfully switched to backup power, the Scripps Health chain said.

‘HUMAN FAILURE’

The ill-fated procedure in Arizona first caused the failure of a high-power line supplying electricity to Southern California before unleashing a domino effect across the Southwest, officials said.

That in turn led to a blockage at California’s San Onofre nuclear energy plant, a second major source of power to the San Diego area, San Diego Gas and Electric said.

San Diego Gas and Electric said in a tweet that all 1.4 million of its customers in the San Diego area were without power. Blackouts also affected 3.5 million people in Baja California, according to local emergency services and state authorities.

The city of Yuma, Arizona, reported that more than 50,000 people had lost power.

“There appears to be two failures here — one is human failure and the other is a system failure. Both of those will be addressed,” said Damon Gross, a spokesman for Arizona utility APS.

By early evening, crews had restored service in the section of the line that triggered the massive event and had begun to restore power to parts of San Diego County.

Electricity returned late on Thursday to the central San Diego neighborhood of Normal Heights, where many families earlier in the evening had embraced the darkness by throwing outdoor barbecue parties on their front lawns.

By 11 p.m., San Diego Gas and Electric reported that power was restored to 165,000 customers in San Diego and Orange counties. But the utility warned that all power would not be restored overnight and urged customers to conserve energy.

‘LINES EVERYWHERE NOW’

Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission said 180,000 customers had been brought back online in Baja California. The commission said it was making progress in getting power back on in state capital Mexicali, Ensenada and Rosarito.

Stuck without refrigeration, employees at the Cardiff Seaside Market, a grocery and specialty food store in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, north of San Diego, started grilling their inventory of fresh steaks and tuna in the parking lot and selling it cooked to passersby for cash.

Meanwhile, a line of about 50 customers waited at the front door for their turn to be led inside by a clerk to do their shopping in groups of two or three at a time.

“It’s real hectic, there’s lines everywhere now. But the customers are happy, everyone’s patient, everyone’s in a good mood, and we’re serving them as quickly as we can,” manager John Shamam, 33, said as he served up a plate of tuna.

Many of the Tweets from San Diego residents revolved around air conditioning. “I’m going to die of heat in this house with no AC!” wrote Ashleigh Marie. “What am I supposed to dooo.”

But San Diego resident Kiersten White tweeted that the power outage “makes me glad I don’t have air conditioning to begin with … nothing to miss!”

Other people were having a harder time. “Trapped outside of our rooms at the hotel,” tweeted Rob Myers, visiting from Washington.

Blackouts hit Mexico’s Northern Baja California state in the afternoon, knocking out power to hundreds of maquiladora export assembly plants in the sprawling industrial powerhouse of Tijuana, south of San Diego.

The blackouts knocked out stoplights at intersections across Tijuana, causing traffic snarl ups, and also cut power to hospitals and government offices. The border crossing at Otay Mesa was closed to all but pedestrian traffic.

 

****************************

Fri Sep 9, 2011 9:05am EDT

 * Blackout left nearly 5 million without power
 * San Onofre nuclear plant remains shut
 (Adds background, quotes)
 NEW YORK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Power companies in Southern
California restored electricity to most customers by early
Friday after a massive blackout on Thursday left nearly 5
million people in parts of California, Arizona and Mexico in
the dark.
 Although the Sept. 8 outage, apparently caused by human
error, was just a tenth the size of the 2003 blackout that left
about 50 million people without power in the eastern United
States and Canada, it will surely rank as one of the biggest
blackouts in recent history - certainly one of the biggest
caused by human error.
 Sempra Energy's (SRE.N) San Diego Gas & Electric power
company said it restored power to its 1.4 million customers at
3:25 a.m. Western time on Friday.
 That was almost 12 hours after a major electric
transmission system outage in western Arizona and the loss of a
key connection with the 2,150-megawatt San Onofre nuclear power
plant in California resulted in the most widespread power
outage in the company's history, SDG&E said.
 Blackouts also affected 3.5 million people in Baja
California, according to local officials. [ID:nN1E78729HS]
 San Onofre, which is operated by Edison International's
(EIX.N) Southern California Edison, shut on Thursday and
remained out of service early Friday, according to the U.S.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
 "Restoring power in the aftermath of the loss of the entire
local grid serving San Diego and southern Orange counties was a
monumental task," David Geier, SDG&E vice president of electric
operations, said in a release.
 "The restoration process, however, has left our local power
grid very fragile and we are asking our customers to conserve
electricity throughout the day Friday," Geier said.
 SDG&E and the California ISO, which operates the power grid
for much of the state, said they would focus on maintaining and
ensuring the integrity of the local power system for the next
few days before determining the sequence of events that led to
the outage and establishing practices and procedures to ensure
that outages such as the Sept. 8 event are not repeated.
 "There appears to be two failures here -- one is human
failure and the other is a system failure. Both of those will
be addressed," said Damon Gross, a spokesman for Pinnacle West
Capital's (PNW.N) Arizona utility Arizona Public Service.
 (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Alden Bentley)

Fixing America with an infrastructure bank

Job creation: Fixing America with an infrastructure bank | Reuters Money.

 

We have iPhones, iPods and iPads. Why not an “iBank?”

This wouldn’t be an electronic gizmo that’s obsolete in a year, though. It would be a public-private partnership to bolster America’s infrastructure. It will create jobs, cut the deficit and repair what needs to be fixed all over the country.

An infrastructure bank, or iBank, solves a lot of problems without busting the budget. Instead of providing direct government grants or earmarks for specific projects, loans are made by a government-banking entity.

The U.S. is inexcusably late to the game on this time-tested idea. The European Investment Bank has financed some $350 billion in projects from 2005 through 2009. China spent 9 percent of its gross domestic product — also roughly $350 billion — to build subways, highways and high-speed rail in 2009 alone. Brazil invested $240 billion over the past three years.

The idea is not without high-level support. President Obama recently called for the creation of an iBank. In backing a U.S. iBank, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts testified last year that “a national infrastructure bank will make Americans builders again.”

If the iBank became reality — and really it’s a necessity to compete in a globalized economy — there’s no shortage of projects. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, more than $2 trillion is needed to fix U.S. bridges, dams, waterways and wastewater plants.

The sheer scale of a big fix is staggering: Some 69,000 bridges need to be repaired. The outdated electrical grid needs to be modernized everywhere. You can build solar plants and windmills all you want, but if you have no power lines to transport the electrons from the deserts and plains, you’re whistling in the wind.

Several spin-offs of an iBank have been floating around for years, and the idea already has support across the political spectrum. A “Clean Energy Bank” would fund solar energy equipment. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, supports legislation that would install 10 million roof solar panels. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois proposed a “Lincoln Legacy” infrastructure bill.

How is the iBank different from just handing out the money to each Congressional district and letting the local representative decide where the money should go?

In Kerry’s vision, federal dollars would be matched with private dollars from pension funds and endowments. Kerry told the Time’s Joe Klein recently that “a $10 billion federal contribution will leverage about $640 billion in private investments.” Kerry claims he has support from business, labor and Republican Senators.

Instead of doling out pork-barrel funding for bridges to nowhere, an independent board would decide which projects are needed most. It’s the inverse of a military base closing commission. Instead of shutting down facilities, this entity would greenlight and finance the most-worthy projects.

One thing an iBank wouldn’t be is another big-check stimulus plan, which Congress passed in 2009. That nearly $800 billion package was a huge fiscal band-aid to help states, school districts and wage earners through the recession. Yes, there were some public works projects that created short-term jobs, but the bulk of the money went to tax relief and the states.

The U.S. needs a new approach to economic triage. The June jobs report was nothing short of dismal as employment growth hit a wall with only 18,000 new jobs coming on the market.

Crumbling infrastructure will cost the U.S. economy nearly 1 million jobs and shave $3.1 trillion from gross domestic product by 2020, the Society of Civil Engineers estimates.

What about the budget? Isn’t there a disconnect between the current passion for cutting the federal deficit and spending money to fix America?

There’s little question that putting people to work will help the economy. Working people pay income, sales and property taxes, which flow back into communities. The steadily employed buy homes, vehicles and appliances. Increased tax revenue in turn reduces the deficit.

The iBank may be able to accomplish what a decade of personal income and estate-tax cuts didn’t: Provide the necessary public-private capital to revive the economy. Not even Harry Potter can make magic work on the U.S. economy without some significant infrastructure investment.

PG&E's '63 blast an early warning on lines' safety

PG&E’s ’63 blast an early warning on lines’ safety.

A Pacific Gas and Electric Co. gas pipeline running up the Peninsula into San Francisco has a long history of cracked and poorly constructed welds and even exploded once – but it’s not the one that blew up in San Bruno last year.

The pipeline is known as Line 109, and it failed disastrously in 1963 in the Bernal Heights neighborhood in San Francisco. The blast injured nine firefighters and led to the heart-attack death of a battalion chief.

Documents contained in a mountain of just-released PG&E paperwork show that over the years, the company has found flawed welds up and down the 50-mile line. But there is no evidence in the records that in all that time, the company ever revealed the problems to state regulators.

PG&E also says it has lost the key document detailing what caused the 1963 explosion. Although it theorizes what happened, based on records that do exist, it doesn’t know for sure what led to the line’s failure – or whether that problem could be repeating itself on the pipeline’s snaking path from Milpitas to San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood.

Experts who reviewed the reports and photos of the cracked and incomplete welds on Line 109 said the evidence raises doubts about PG&E’s system of aging lines.

“Some of the cracks I looked at were awfully familiar to what was exposed in the San Bruno” explosion, said Bob Bea, a UC Berkeley engineering professor and risk management expert. “This shows the potential for the same kinds of flaws and defects.”

Line never fully tested

Like Line 132, the pipeline that exploded in San Bruno on Sept. 9, Line 109 was never fully tested using pressurized water to check its integrity. Instead, PG&E relied mostly on inspection methods that detect leaks or corrosion, but not bad welds. In one especially troublesome stretch, it installed a plastic liner in 1995 and used water to test the line beforehand.

PG&E says more than half of Line 109 has been replaced in recent years, and the pipe has had no leaks from bad welds in the past decade. The company has also cut gas pressure on the line by 20 percent at the order of the California Public Utilities Commission, which was concerned that a problem such as the one that destroyed Line 132 in San Bruno might be lurking on Line 109.

“We have openly acknowledged the need to significantly improve many of our historic operations practices,” company spokesman Brian Swanson said. Since the San Bruno disaster, he said, “we’ve been working intensively to do exactly that. Today, and going forward, we are taking whatever steps are necessary to bring our operations up to industry-leading levels and to assure our customers that our system is operating safely.”

Line 109’s problems first came to everyone’s attention almost 50 years ago.

On Jan. 2, 1963, the transmission pipe sprang a leak under Alemany Boulevard in San Francisco. About 1,000 homes were evacuated as firefighters rushed in to help.

Before PG&E crews turned off the line, gas spread to a nearby home, which exploded. Two of the nine injured firefighters were critically hurt, and Battalion Chief Frank Lamey, 63, died of a heart attack.

Firefighter recalls blast

One of those critically injured was Anthony Marelich Jr. In an interview last week, he said PG&E had left the line active during the evacuation to avoid cutting off thousands of other customers and believed the gas was safely venting into the atmosphere.

Instead, it was filling a house on Nevada Street. Marelich said he had been standing with several firefighters when the home blew up and a wall “landed on top of me.”

“It was instantaneous,” said Marelich, now 73. His face was crushed, and doctors gave him almost no chance to survive.

He was forced to retire the next year, having lost several teeth and his sense of smell. Surgeons had to wire his jaw back on.

“Safety, right now, is in the limelight because of San Bruno,” Marelich said, adding that he thinks PG&E should have paid a steep price for the 1963 blast, “but they never showed any blame for it.”

“What happened to me and what happened to those people down in San Bruno, it should never have happened,” Marelich said.

Weld failure detected

An investigation showed that the line had fractured at a welded joint – known as a girth weld – that encircles the pipeline and links two segments. Swanson, the PG&E spokesman, said some documents from 1963 indicate that the weld failed because of pressure from dirt that had been piled on the line.

But in releasing almost 250,000 documents about its gas transmission system to the California Public Utilities Commission last week, one record PG&E was unable to find was the metallurgical report that went into detail on what caused the failure.

PG&E has been vexed by such record-keeping problems. Its documents incorrectly showed that the line that exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes, had no longitudinal seams. In fact, the line ruptured at an incomplete weld on such a seam, federal metallurgists have concluded.

The company also is facing potentially millions of dollars in state fines for its inability to locate records to vouch for the safety of about 500 miles of gas-transmission lines in and around urban areas.

“It is always reprehensible and unsafe when PG&E cannot locate a metallurgical report on a weld flaw or failure,” Bob Cagen, an attorney for Public Utilities Commission, said of the missing 1963 document. Cagen is overseeing a state investigation into the company’s recordkeeping.

“It means reduced safety,” Cagen said, “because in order to determine what to do with the system and what portions are vulnerable, a utility must understand and study the causes of past failures.”

More problems with weld

Three years after the 1963 blast, there was another failure involving a Line 109 girth weld, according to one of the documents that PG&E turned over to the state last week. That document does not indicate where the failure occurred or give other details, only that it was caused by a bad-quality weld.

In 1981, PG&E conducted metallurgical strength and durability tests on lines across the Bay Area and found that at least four girth welds under Alemany Boulevard failed at least one of the tests, according to the documents.

Fifteen years later, PG&E set about assessing the state of Line 109’s girth welds. At the time, the company was in the midst of a program to replace its aging pipes across the Bay Area, and Line 109 certainly qualified – its southern portion was installed in 1936, and the pipeline under San Francisco was put in place in 1932.

PG&E had known since 1981 that many of the welds that held pipeline segments together were made using oxyacetylene technology dating from the early 20th century. The technique generated gas bubbles in the welding bond, making pipes brittle and more susceptible to failure in earthquakes.

Records show that PG&E replaced several hundred feet of Line 109 in the city in 1995. At the same time, it told the state Public Utilities Commission that it had decided to reinforce about 2 miles of Line 109 along Alemany Boulevard with an internal plastic liner, rather than replace it.

But what the company did not tell the state was that it was finding problems such as weld cracking all over Line 109.

In an internal report in 1994, PG&E technicians found major weld defects in each of the nine pieces of pipe that workers had recently dug up for analysis.

The test sections were taken from Milpitas, Burlingame, and the Ingleside Heights and Dogpatch neighborhoods of San Francisco, the report said. The most serious problem was from pipe dug up on Chester Avenue near Alemany in San Francisco, which had a 2-inch-long crack in a girth weld that had penetrated two-thirds of the way through the wall.

Regulators not informed

PG&E didn’t mention the girth weld problems to the state in 1995 when it obtained regulators’ permission to install the protective plastic liner inside the pipe along Alemany in Bernal Heights. The company told the state only that it was trying to strengthen the line against earthquakes, according to a Public Utilities Commission document from 1995.

The PG&E records released last week show that the company has replaced some of the segments in San Francisco that had flawed girth welds, and that the remaining 1.83 miles of original 1932 pipe are lined with the pressurized plastic.

When San Francisco officials asked PG&E this year for documents related to Line 109, however, the company did not turn over its records on the problematic welds. The city attorney’s office received the records only last week when PG&E made its filing with the state.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the disclosure leaves more questions than answers, and he called the documents incomplete and inadequate.

“PG&E needs to make it clear what steps it has taken to ensure the safety of all” the aging lines in the city and elsewhere, Herrera said. “It’s very, very difficult to reconcile the information that has been provided, to know how it all fits together.”

New failures on pipeline

A year after PG&E installed its pipeline liner in San Francisco, the company found more problems with two of the nine pieces of pipe it first examined in 1994.

The segments, removed either from Burlingame or Milpitas, had not just bad girth welds but flawed longitudinal seam welds as well, the newly released PG&E records show. Seam welds are made at a pipe factory, not in the field. It was a seam weld that failed in the San Bruno disaster.

One of the seam welds double-checked in 1996 had a crack that penetrated three-fourths of the way through the wall of the pipe, and the other had a crack that traveled 44 percent through. The worst crack was covered over by the girth weld, which was all that was holding the pipe together.

The lab report said some of the weld flaws appeared to have been repaired at some point, but only partially, and that the cracks probably originated from when the pipe was put in the ground in 1936.

Those sections of pipe were removed, PG&E’s documents show. But pipeline from the same era remains along 17 miles of the line on the Peninsula and is not due to be replaced until 2014.

‘Many early warning signs’

Bea, the UC Berkeley engineering professor, examined a photograph of the pipe with the worst crack and said, “This looks like something that would have been done in the first day of my welding class.

“If it’s an indication of the quality associated with the work on this line,” Bea said, “it is not something you would want to build your home or hospital over.”

Bea said the overall picture of Line 109’s condition painted by the newly released documents was troubling.

“You have bad welds, bad steel, and it appears to be scattered randomly throughout the system in this case,” Bea said. “In hindsight, we see many early warning signs to indicate what were causative elements in the San Bruno experience. It’s a matter of time and exposure before the weakest links are exposed.”

E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at jvanderbeken@sfchronicle.com.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/06/25/BAMV1K1FSM.DTL#ixzz1QUbz2K58