PG&E: Disclosing Major Gas Line Routes Too Risky

By Anne Lowe

PUBLIC INFORMATION – Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is refusing to release details about high-risk areas of its pipeline system due to security concerns, the Bay Citizen reported last week. But the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday that large gas mains underlie several neighborhoods in the state capital "like shadow interstates," including its downtown.

Update:  The company, bending to public pressure, has disclosed 100 of its highest-risk pipeline locations.

Since a deadly explosion in San Bruno last week, First Amendment advocates are calling for the private company to release information on high-risk areas of their pipeline. The company has declined to provide maps or lists of these pipelines and will not state specific reasons for their security concerns, the Bay Citizen reported.

"For safety and security reasons, we don't disclose that information," said PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian. "This is very specific information. We are a very transparent company."

Asked whether the Department of Homeland Security had issued a specific directive to the company regarding the release of public records, Sarkissian promised to look into it.

For their part, federal officials say they had issued no such directive.

“TSA [The Transportation Security Administration] does not encourage utilities to keep the locations of gas pipelines that are a high-risk for failure from the public,” said Sari Koshetz, an agency spokeswoman.

The TSA, however, has discouraged utilities and pipeline companies from posting maps of their entire systems on the web “for obvious security reasons.

"As a private company, PG&E is not obliged to furnish records under the California Public Records Act. But First Amendment experts say PG&E has an obligation to make such relevant information available to the public.

“If PG&E knows about risky pipelines, why would they keep that secret?” said James Wheaton, senior counsel at the First Amendment Project, a nonprofit law firm in Oakland. “If they keep it a secret and it blows up in their face, they will have a lot of explaining to do.”

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