Independent review of PG&E survey is needed

We unequivocally believe that offshore seismic surveys must be conducted to ensure the safety of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. However, we also believe it would be premature for the state Lands Commission to sign off on PG&E’s permit application without further assurance that it’s the best possible survey plan.

Two local elected officials with extensive backgrounds in seismic research, county Supervisor Bruce Gibson and state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, have raised serious concerns about the methodology of the survey — concerns that PG&E has dismissed.

Given the circumstances, we believe the county Board of Supervisors took the right approach when it unanimously approved a letter asking the state Lands Commission to require a third-party team of experts to review PG&E’s survey plan.

The public has the right to be assured that the best possible technology and methodology will be used, especially because ratepayers will likely be footing the bill for the $64.2 million project.

Also, it’s important to get this right the first time, because the permit is likely to be issued only once on account of the potential harm to marine life and disruption to the fishing industry.

Although it’s true that an Independent Peer Review Panel was appointed by the California Public Utilities Commission to review the project, that group has yet to make a final recommendation to the state Lands Commission.

Gibson, who serves on the panel, said the group heard a presentation from PG&E, but has not had an opportunity to discuss what it learned and weigh in with a recommendation.

That, in itself, is reason to hit the pause button.

We also are concerned that Sen. Blakeslee — who repeatedly sought to pass legislation requiring PG&E to conduct the seismic survey — has been bringing up some of the same questions and concerns that Gibson has been raising.

Those concerns include the age and size of the vessel that will do the survey work. At more than 20 years old, the boat had once been used to conduct surveys for the oil industry, but is now used for academic research.

Gibson says industry vessels that are in use now are more sophisticated and, because they carry more “streamers” equipped with sound-recording devices, they can get the job done more quickly, which further minimizes threats to the environment.

PG&E says the smaller boat is well suited to the shallow waters that will need to be surveyed.

Gibson and Blakeslee aren’t convinced of that.

“They (PG&E) have been trying to make the case that what they have is good enough,” Gibson told us. “My approach is we need to be convinced we’re getting the best.”

And that’s not the only issue : Gibson and Blakeslee also aren’t convinced that adequate modeling was done in advance of the sur veys to help ensure that the research vessel will collect the best data.

PG&E, meanwhile, says time is of the essence; it is limited when it can conduct the research because of migratory season of the gray whales. If it can’t get into the water this fall, it will have to wait until next fall to conduct the surveys.

Although we agree that it would be better to get under way this year, we believe it’s far more important to ensure that the survey is going to yield the best possible results. That’s to PG&E’s advantage as well: The public is far more likely to accept the survey results if the plan has received a stamp of approval from a well-qualified, independent body and has been endorsed by local officials, including Gibson and Blakeslee.

For ever yone’s piece of mind, we strongly urge the state Lands Commission to follow the Board of Supervisors’ advice and require an independent technical review of the survey plan.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.

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