Scrambling to get its act together following the deadly Sept. 9 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has developed a Pipeline 2020 program that will focus on modernizing its pipeline infrastructure as well as “spurring development of next-generation pipeline inspection technologies, enhancing public safety awareness and emergency response planning, and developing industry-leading best practices, including state-of-the-art risk assessment techniques.”

(Part of the Pipeline 2020 program urges the use of automatic or remotely operated shut-off valves, which would have made a huge difference in the duration of the gas leak and subsequent, uncontrollable 89-minute fire in San Bruno.)

In explaining this new program in a letter to Paul Clanon, executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, Brian Cherry, PG&E’s vice president of regulatory relations, also writes that developing a top list of 100 high priority pipeline projects, as requested by the CPUC, was always a part of PG&E’s risk management program. However, the top list, says Cherry, was “not a list of projects that PG&E had identified as priority candidates for replacement or upgrade for reasons of public safety.” Oh.

Cherry explains that PG&E already has a comprehensive gas transmission system integrity management program, which includes “an inspection and monitoring program to help ensure the safety of its natural gas transmission pipeline system.”

And he says that any issues identified as a threat to public safety are immediately addressed.

But given that PG&E’s computer data system, which was updated and replaced in 2006, lacks a substantial amount of critical information about seams and welds in its natural gas pipeline system (a problem exemplified with the San Bruno explosion), how accurate could its Top 100 list be in the first place? Plus, that’s probably the reason why PG&E says the list was not for priority replacement or upgrade projects, just to be on the safe side.

What’s on the list and why will probably be addressed in Washington, D.C. March 1-3 when the National Transportation Safety Board opens hearings into the San Bruno blast.

At any rate, it seems that our aging infrastructure will be a main star in the news in the coming years. Take last week for example: Two natural gas pipeline explosions Feb. 9 and 10 in eastern Ohio and Allentown, respectively. No one was injured in Ohio, but five were killed in Pennsylvania, including a four-month-old baby, and 50 buildings damaged.