updated 11/24/2010 7:10:56 PM ET 2010-11-25T00:10:56

Under pressure since a deadly natural gas explosion, California regulators said they would immediately hire four more pipeline safety inspectors.

The positions were posted Tuesday and would be filled without delay, Paul Clanon, executive director of the state Public Utilities Commission, told state Senate Energy Committee Chairman Alex Padilla in a letter reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

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The commission currently has nine inspectors on staff.

The move came amid criticism from legislators of low staffing levels for inspecting the state's 110,000 miles of gas pipelines. Records indicate California failed to meet minimum inspection levels set by the federal government for every year since 2003.

A ruptured pipeline caused a massive explosion that engulfed a San Bruno neighborhood in September, killing eight people and destroying more than three dozen homes. The cause of the rupture remained under investigation, but the tragedy has prompted calls for more safety measures to protect communities located near major gas lines.

A Chronicle investigation found California conducts the fewest pipeline safety inspections of any state — about 1 percent of its lines are checked. The utilities commission has acknowledged that its current staff is smaller than what the federal government recommends but called the inspectors aggressive and effective.

The new hiring timeline is a departure from Clanon's previous statement that the commission would seek to hire in the next fiscal year.

Padilla, D-Pacoima, said he was pleased by the stepped-up hiring and called the action an important first step.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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