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PG&E opens gas monitoring center
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SAN RAMON  (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has opened a new, $38 million natural gas monitoring center in the wake of a deadly 2010 gas line explosion in a San Francisco Bay Area suburb.

The new center allows the utility to better monitor its gas transmission system and coordinate and respond in case of an emergency, PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said on Friday.

In addition to 6,700 miles of gas transmission pipeline, the new center also monitors the utility's 42,000 miles of gas distribution pipeline. Distribution lines are the narrow-diameter pipes that serve individual homes and businesses.

The new center, which went online late last week, will also put the employees who dispatch PG&E workers in the field in the same room as the system monitors.

"The new center allows us to really take a closer look at our system, so we can predict and be proactive about potential issues before they become a problem," Chord said.

The explosion of a high-pressure transmission line on Sept. 9, 2010, sparked a gas-fueled fire in San Bruno that destroyed 38 homes and laid waste to parts of the same neighborhood. Eight people died.

The National Transportation Safety Board has blamed failures by PG&E and weak oversight by regulators for the blast, which it said was directly caused by substandard welds and other problems dating back to the installation of the pipeline decades earlier.

The company's inadequate inspection program for pipelines, which allowed the bad welds and other weaknesses to go undetected, also contributed, the board said.

State investigators have said PG&E violated safety rules and kept poor records.

PG&E has accepted liability for the disaster in numerous public statements but has denied most of state investigators' allegations.

Critics told the Contra Costa Times ( ) the new center is a step forward, but PG&E must still do more to guarantee the system's safety.

"PG&E still can't be confident, and the customers can't be confident, that PG&E knows enough about its system to know that it's safe," said Thomas Long, legal director with The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group.