State Clears PG&E in Gun Range Explosion

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – Pacific Gas and Electric is not to blame for the fatal explosion of a natural gas pipeline at the Fresno County Sheriff’s Foundation shooting range last year, the California Public Utilities Commission said Monday.
     The April 17 blast killed a man and injured 13 when a Fresno County employee operating a front-end loader struck the buried gas line. Most of the injured men were inmates from Fresno County Jail who were removing lead bullets from the range. The county worker was also injured.
     PG&E said the county did not place a call to 811, the toll-free service to mark and locate underground utilities, before the work began.
     The PUC found that sheriff’s and public works officials, whose names were redacted from the report, failed to contact PG&E about the planned work near the pipeline and did not secure a permit for the excavation.
     “Because the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office did not contact the regional notification center before excavation, PG&E did not have an opportunity to mark its subsurface facilities (pipeline). The marking would notify the excavator the approximate location of the pipelines. The excavator would then be required to excavate with hand tools within the area of the approximate location of the pipeline,” the report said. (Parentheses in report.)
     The PUC blamed the county’s “failure to seek professional assistance” before doing work around the pipeline.
     Injured men have filed multiple lawsuits , accusing the county and PG&E of responsibility for the explosion.
     Fresno County also sued PG&E , accusing it of failing to properly maintain the pipeline or ensure that it was buried deep enough.
     The Public Utilities Commission report found that PG&E was not at fault.
     “The depth of cover over the pipe at the incident location at the time of the incident was likely a contributing factor, but there is no evidence to suggest that PG&E failed to meet the minimum depth of cover requirement applicable during installation” of the pipeline, the PUC’s Safety Enforcement Division said in the report
     Corrosion of the pipeline was not a contributing factor, the report said.
     County officials told investigators they did not know the work at the gun range would involve excavation, which is why they did not seek PG&E’s authorization. No one drew up detailed plans or surveys for the earth-moving work, the PUC said.
     The explosion caused $1.95 million in damage to the gas line and lost gas, according to the report.
     PG&E spokesman said Denny Boyles in an emailed statement: “First and foremost, our thoughts continue to be with the individuals who were impacted by this incident. The report speaks for itself. We want all our customers to know that calling 811 before you dig is absolutely critical.”
     Attorneys for the injured inmates and the county did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent after hours Monday.

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