California: Pipeline Accident Leads to Proposed Safety Bill

The deaths of five workers resulting from a gasoline pipeline explosion have inspired a California state senator to introduce pipeline safety legislation.

The objective of Senate Bill 1359 which Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, introduced Feb. 21 is to improve safety during excavation work around high-risk pipelines that carry flammable fuels such as a gasoline and natural gas.

SB 1359's proposed changes to existing California excavation regulations include state-approved training for workers who mark the locations of pipelines, better coordination between pipeline operators and excavators and requiring the best-available technology to locate pipelines, according to Torlakson.

Torlakson said that the proposed legislation is the result of a Nov. 9, 2004, pipeline accident that killed five workers.

The tragedy occurred at a Walnut Creek, Calif., construction site when a backhoe punctured an underground, high-pressure gasoline pipeline. The gasoline vapors ignited, creating a fireball and explosion that killed the workers, who were part of a welding crew working nearby to build a new water main.

State investigations later showed that there were serious safety lapses during the excavation process and that a few simple changes could have prevented the entire accident, according to Torlakson.

"This bill will help to ensure that what happened in Walnut Creek won't happen in any other community," Torlakson said. "A few simple safeguards will not only protect workers it will save lives."

According to Torlakson, who led a hearing of the California Senate Select Committee on Bay Area Infrastructure regarding the Walnut Creek accident, officials concluded that factors such as improper marking of the gasoline pipeline prior to digging and communication gaps between parties working at the construction site contributed to the explosion.

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