Fresno County Blames|PG&E for Explosion

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – Fresno County has sued PG&E for the April 17 natural gas pipeline explosion that killed one person and injured 10.
     The county claims in its Friday lawsuit in Superior Court that PG&E did not properly maintain the pipeline or ensure that it was buried deep enough.
     A county employee was using a front-end loader to spread soil at the Fresno County Sheriff’s Gun Foundation when the gas line ruptured, sending flames shooting 100 feet into the sky.
     The operator was not digging or excavating, the sheriff’s office said.
     PG&E said that the worker struck the 12-inch pipeline and the gas line ignited. It said that before the work began no call had been placed to 811, the toll-free service to mark and locate underground utilities.
     Sixteen people were working at the gun range, including inmates who were picking up shell casings when the explosion came.
     Jeremiah Espino, one of eight inmates hospitalized after the blast, died in the hospital on May 11. Two deputies and the county employee who was driving the equipment were also injured.
     Many of the injured men have already filed lawsuits against PG&E, and filed claims against Fresno County.
     A lawsuit cannot be filed against the county until the county rejects the claim, which it has six months to do.
     The county blames PG&E’s poor maintenance for the explosion.
     “The defendants created a condition which caused the 50-year-old pipeline to be susceptible to rupture by exposure to excessive gas pressure. Defendants created a dangerous condition by their failure to maintain sufficient depth of soil covering the pipeline. Defendants’ failure to design, construct, install and maintain the pipeline allowed it to be exposed to become overburdened, which caused an explosion,” the county says in its complaint.
     It says PG&E could have taken measures to prevent the incident, while still providing gas to consumers.
     PG&E said that a 2013 survey of the pipeline showed there were 40 inches of cover between the pipe and the surface, which meets PG&E standards and federal code.
     The county demands restitution for workers’ compensation benefits to be paid to the injured employees, repair costs for damaged property and equipment, and abatement costs.
     The county is represented by David Overstreet, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did PG&E.

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