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Portola Valley: Gas leak may be tied to settling of road

A severed gas line is now repaired, but the question of the proper depth for the pipe is yet to be decided, Portola Valley officials say.

The residential gas line serves 190 Cervantes Road. Sitting just 3 inches under the surface of the road, it was severed on May 6, but is now fixed and buried at a depth of 18 inches, a Pacific Gas & Electric spokesman told the Almanac.

Town Manager Nick Pegueros told the Almanac that the town's conversations with PG&E will result in the line being buried even deeper, to an updated standard of 30 inches below the surface.

The line may have been too close to the surface because road beds settle over time, and because repaving processes can slowly push a road below its original height, PG&E says.

There were indications that the repaving had not been preceded by a phone call to 8-1-1 two days in advance of the intended work to alert PG&E, spokesman Jason King told the Almanac. Had that call been made, PG&E would have located the pipe and marked the area with flags and/or paint, he said.

The rupture occurred around 12:45 p.m. on May 6 when a repaving crew using a asphalt-grinding machine accidentally severed the three-quarter-inch line.

Firefighters were called and they secured the area and rerouted traffic. They were on the scene for about 90 minutes, said Battalion Chief Kevin Butler of the Woodside Fire Protection District. No one was injured and there was never a threat of injury, he added.

The odor of natural gas had been detectable, but wind dispersed it, he said.

A PG&E crew stopped the leak by 2:30 p.m. and repairs were complete by 5 p.m., Mr. King said.

At the scene, firefighters found themselves in a bind at first, Mr. Butler said. The asphalt-grinding machine was the size of a small car, it was turned off, and it was sitting directly above the leak. They could not risk a spark by restarting it, nor could they move it.

The PG&E crew solved the problem by excavating the areas on either side of the break. They found the line and crimped it on the supply side to shut off the flow of gas, Mr. Butler said. The line fed gas to one home.

Asked about a gas line being so close to the surface of the road, Mr. King said it is rare in his experience. He attributed it to natural sinking and settling of the road and decades of grinding and repaving. "We can't guarantee, over time, the depth of a line when the homeowner or contractor does a digging project," he said.

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