PG&E Faces $24 Million Fine for Explosion

SACRAMENTO (CN) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is facing a $24.3 million penalty for shoddy recordkeeping and safety violations that led to a March 2014 explosion that destroyed an unoccupied cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
     The California Public Utilities Commission already has fined PG&E $10.8 million for the explosion, which also damaged three nearby homes. The commission found that PG&E violated safety rules and failed to properly equip a crew trying to replace a gas line.
     The additional $24.3 million penalty recommended by a PUC administrative law judge Wednesday is for PG&E’s failure to keep accurate records of gas line locations.
     “The inaccurately mapped and consequently inaccurately marked facilities led to excavators damaging the distribution system in several instances,” Administrative Law Judge Maribeth Bushey wrote. “Release of natural gas, service interruptions and, in one case, significant property damage resulted.”
     Failure to keep accurate records violates state regulations.
     “Here, the wrongdoing implicates safe operations of a natural gas system, which is by its very nature dangerous. Complete compliance with safety requirements is essential,” Bushey wrote.
     The PUC began investigating PG&E’s recordkeeping practices in November 2014 in response to six incidents involving its natural gas distribution system. Each incident involved inaccurate maps or records.
     Bushey said several incidents of poor PG&E recordkeeping starting in 2010 should have set off warning signals. In October 2012, mistakes in charting and monitoring pressure gauges interrupted gas service to 987 customers in Milpitas, and a July 2013 natural gas leak in Mountain View resulted from the penetration of a 1-inch plastic pipe insert that was not listed on any PG&E maps or records.
     “Seven months later, on March 3, 2014, another PG&E crew tapped into a similarly unknown and unmapped plastic insert in Carmel, causing a release of gas, an eventually a house explosion,” the judge wrote.
     Earlier this year, the PUC safety division recommended that PG&E be fined nearly $112 million for the Carmel explosion. The City of Carmel had urged the commission to impose a fine for all the recordkeeping violations under review, which would have amounted to more than $651 million.
     If anyone contests Bushey’s $24.3 million fine, it will go to the full commission for a vote.
     PG&E, which had fought additional penalties for the Carmel explosion, said in a statement that it has “made significant improvements to our distribution records to promote safety, reduce risk and enhance reliability.”

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