PG&E Criminally Charged in San Bruno Pipeline Explosion

More than two years after NTSB concluded its inadequate quality assurance and quality control in 1956 during a pipeline relocation project caused the explosion, the utility faces 12 charges with potential penalties of $500,000 per charge.

PG&E Corporation and its subsidiary, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, answered a federal indictment April 1 about the San Bruno pipeline explosion by pledging "to stay focused on building the safest and most reliable natural gas system in the country despite what it expects will be a lengthy legal process to demonstrate that federal criminal charges filed today … have no merit."

NTSB determined in 2011 that PG&E's inadequate quality control system when the pipeline was relocated about 50 years earlier caused the explosion.

The Sept. 9, 2010, blast at 6:11 p.m. PDT ruptured a 30-inch diameter section of an intrastate natural gas transmission pipeline owned and operated by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, producing a crater 72 feet long and 26 feet wide. The gas ignited and the fire destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 other homes. Eight people were killed, many were injured, and others were evacuated from the area.

The charges filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco allege PG&E's past operating practices violated the federal Pipeline Safety Act in recordkeeping, pipeline integrity management, and identification of pipeline threats.

"San Bruno was a tragic accident. We've taken accountability and are deeply sorry," said PG&E Chairman and CEO Tony Earley, who was brought in to lead PG&E in 2011, after the explosion. "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."

The company's response said that PG&E "believes that its employees did not intentionally violate the federal Pipeline Safety Act, and that even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy."

Since the incident, California adopted new pipeline safety standards, and PG&E has committed to spend $2.7 billion of shareholder money to fund safety-related work, has completed nine of the 12 safety recommendations made by NTSB, and opened a gas control center in August 2013. The company stated it also has replaced 127 miles of pipeline.

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