Utility Unveils Board Shakeup Amid Renewed Scrutiny on Gas Safety

SAN FRANCSICO (CN) – Pacific Gas and Electric announced plans Monday for a major shakeup to its board of directors, a move intended to help restore confidence in California’s largest utility as it faces continued questions about its wildfire prevention plans and new scrutiny over gas pipeline safety.

Pacific Gas & Electric vehicles are parked at the PG&E service center in Oakland, Calif., on Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

New and independent directors not employed by the company will occupy a majority of the company’s board seats after its next annual meeting on May 21, the company announced in an SEC filing Monday.

“We recognize the importance of adding fresh perspectives to the board to help address the serious challenges the business faces now and in the future,” the company said in a statement Monday.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after PG&E filed for bankruptcy, citing $30 billion in liability for wildfire damage caused by what numerous lawsuits say was a failure to trim trees and vegetation near its power lines and equipment as required by state law.

The company expects to have 11 independent directors on its board by the end of May. No more than five of its 10 current board members will stand for re-election. A PG&E spokeswoman could not confirm how many total directors are expected to occupy the newly reformed board.

Monday’s announcement of a board shakeup comes as PG&E faces new scrutiny over its gas pipeline safety operations. On Feb. 6, a gas line rupture in San Francisco hurled a 40-foot fireball into the air for more than two hours, setting five buildings ablaze. The rupture occurred where a construction crew was digging near Geary Boulevard and Parker Avenue.

Following that incident, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) official said Saturday that the agency was looking into the time it took PG&E to shut off gas to ruptured pipelines.

Federal investigators say the company has a history of being slow to stop the flow of gas when such incidents take place. It took PG&E nine hours and 10 minutes to shut off the gas after a PG&E excavation crew hit a 16-inch gas main in San Francisco on Aug. 25, 1981, according to the NTSB.

For the San Bruno pipeline explosion on Sept, 9, 2010, it took 95 minutes for PG&E to shut off the gas, “an excessively long” response time that “contributed to the extent and severity of property damage and increased the life-threatening risks to the residents and emergency responders,” according to the NTSB’s final accident report.

Regarding the Feb. 6 incident, PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said the company had an isolation plan in place to cut off gas to the ruptured line. That plan included using valves and squeeze points, or places where tools can be applied to compress gas flow between lines. Disabling the flow of gas required PG&E employees to dig underground with hand tools, Paulo said.

“Our crews squeezed off the flow of gas to a 4-inch gas line and shut-in approximately six valves to isolate the damaged pipe,” Paulo said via email.

The NTSB is expected to release a preliminary report on the gas line rupture within the next two weeks.

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