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PG&E begins natural gas line testing in Turlock
PGE update pic
Pacific Gas and Electric Company workers prepare equipment on the corner of West Avenue South and South Avenue Thursday for the first in a series of four natural gas transmission line tests in the Turlock area. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal

Streets in Turlock’s westside will be shut down tonight as Pacific Gas and Electric Company performs the first in a series of natural gas transmission line tests.

PG&E’s blue trucks will be part of Turlock’s landscape for quite a few months, as the utility company is scheduled to do four hydrostatic tests on approximately 16 miles of natural gas line, according to Brandi Ehlers Merlo, PG&E representative. The testing process began in January and is expected to take place until July.

Today’s test will start at 7:30 p.m. and run until 2 a.m. and involve approximately 4 miles of pipeline in the area of West Avenue, Linwood, Walnut and Bradbury. A number large tanks that are holding the water for the testing of the pipeline could be seen on the corner of West Avenue South and South Avenue, next to Living Encounter United Pentecostal Church of Turlock.

The hydrostatic pressure test confirms the gas pipeline’s strength and operating pressure. The test involves purging natural gas from a segment of pipeline, filling it with water and subjecting it to a pressure test much higher than normal operating pressure under safe and closely monitored conditions, said Ehlers Merlo.

Following standard safety practices, crews will vent natural gas from pipelines as the project progresses. As PG&E vents the pipe, the smell of natural gas and the sound of venting may be noticeable to nearby homes and businesses, depending on wind direction. The natural gas will quickly dissipate into the atmosphere, according to Ehlers Merlo, and will not be harmful, however, PG&E encourages anyone who has concerns about natural gas odors in or around their home or business to call us at 1-800-743-5000.

In January, PG&E said it was committed to transforming the company into the "safest and most reliable energy provider in America" after a federal judge on Thursday sentenced California's largest utility to pay a $3 million fine and run television commercials publicizing its pipeline safety convictions as punishment in a criminal case stemming from a deadly natural-gas explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson also ordered Pacific Gas & Electric Co. employees to perform 10,000 hours of community service and ordered an independent monitor to oversee the safety of its gas pipeline system.

The sentence closes one of the final chapters in the legal and regulatory fallout from the 2010 blast in the city of San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

California regulators previously fined PG&E $1.6 billion for the explosion, and the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars settling victims' lawsuits.

Jurors in August convicted the company of five of 11 counts of violating pipeline safety laws, including failing to gather information to evaluate potential gas-line threats and deliberately not classifying a gas line as high risk. No employees were charged, so no one was facing prison time.

Prosecutors said the company intentionally misclassified pipelines so it would not have to subject them to appropriate testing, choosing a cheaper method to save money.

Jurors also convicted the utility of obstructing investigators looking into the blast.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.