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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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PG&E Charged for Fatal Blast in San Bruno

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Pacific Gas & Electric has been criminally charged for the San Bruno pipeline explosion of 2010 that killed eight people, injured dozens and leveled a neighborhood.

The 12-count federal indictment alleges violations of the Gas Pipeline Safety Act, including failure to maintain pipeline records, to fix the line or identify threats that could have prevented the disaster.

A faulty pipeline, identified as Line 132, ruptured in a residential neighborhood in San Bruno in the early evening of Sept. 9, 2010, causing a fire that killed eight people and injured 58 others. The fire damaged 108 homes, 38 of which were destroyed, according to the 21-page criminal complaint.

The government claims PG&E knew of deficiencies in its 46,000 miles of gas transmission and distribution pipelines but failed to maintain accurate and complete records of leaks, or to make the records it did have accessible, or to maintain welding maps or inspection records, or to keep records about how the lines were manufactured.

Uncle Sam also claims that PG&E did not maintain required pressure test records for the life of all its pipelines, or keep accurate and accessible job files containing pipe specifications, construction records, pressure test records or purchasing records, or properly monitor population encroachment on the lines.

The company relied on its "inaccurate and incomplete records to select assessment records to assess the integrity of covered segments for known or potential threats as required," according to the indictment.

Though PG&E records indicated that Segment 180 -- the line that ruptured -- was seamless and that it knew the specified minimum yield strength, the ruptured segment was in fact not seamless and the yield strength was unknown at the time of the blast, according to the indictment.

PG&E reported that the pipe was manufactured in 1956 though the actual date is unknown but was well before 1956, and it claimed that a pressure test was done in 1961 though there were no records indicating that a test had ever been done, the government says.

In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office accused PG&E of failing to put the safety of the community first.

Attorney General Kamala Harris said: "Today's indictment is an important step in providing justice for the individuals, families and community devastated by the 2010 pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno. As alleged in the indictment, PG&E knowingly and willfully failed to identify and evaluate threats to its transmission pipelines, including Line 132 underneath much of San Bruno. When allegedly faced with evidence of transmission line problems, PG&E knowingly and willfully chose not to assess and remediate the problems."

PG&E is charged with 12 violations of the Gas Pipeline Safety Act.

The maximum statutory penalty for each count for a corporation is $500,000 or a fine based on the gain the corporation made as a result of the violation or the loss caused to victims.

PG&E CEO Tony Early said in a statement Tuesday: "San Bruno was a tragic accident. We've taken accountability and are deeply sorry. We have worked hard to do the right thing for victims, their families and the community, and we will continue to do so. We want all of our customers and their families to know that nothing will distract us from our mission of transforming this 100-plus-year-old system into the safest and most reliable natural gas system in the country."

Last week PG&E officials said they expected the criminal charges, in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In that filing, the company said it has "has cooperated with federal investigators and has engaged in discussions with the U.S. Attorney's Office in an effort to reach a fair resolution of the investigation. Given the most recent discussions with the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Utility expects that it will be charged with criminal violations of the federal Pipeline Safety Act. The Utility believes that criminal charges are not merited and that it did not commit any knowing and willful violation of the Pipeline Safety Act."

PG&E said its reputation would "suffer" if charges are filed and that any convictions could result in penalties that could have a "material impact" on its financial condition.

The company expects the courts to order it to "undertake remedial measures, including operating its natural gas transmission business subject to the supervision and oversight of an independent monitor."

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