Corporate Law

Utility company is criminally charged in fatal pipeline explosion fire that leveled a neighborhood


A utility company was federally indicted Tuesday on 12 criminal counts related to a fatal 2010 fire caused by a pipeline explosion that leveled much of a California neighborhood.

The indictment (PDF provided by Courthouse News) says Pacific Gas & Electric repeatedly violated maintenance and record-keeping requirements of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act and “knowingly relied on erroneous and incomplete information” in avoiding its obligation to review records and conduct inspections that could have revealed a faulty weld in a gas transmission line before the Sept. 9, 2010 disaster in San Bruno. Eight people were killed and 58 were injured in the fire that resulted from the pipeline explosion. It also destroyed 38 homes and damaged another 70.

The Associated Press, Bloomberg, Courthouse News and the San Francisco Chronicle have stories.

PG&E faces one count of failing to maintain required records in the San Francisco case. Another nine counts related to the company’s claimed failure to deal appropriately with over-pressurization incidents and two counts concern its claimed failure to identify pipeline risks and develop appropriate remediation plans. All of the counts are felonies.

No executives were charged and the company has said it should not face a criminal case because no employee intentionally violated the federal pipeline law.

If convicted, PG&E could be subjected to court monitoring and be fined as much as $6 million.

“San Bruno was a tragic accident. We’ve taken accountability and are deeply sorry,” said Tony Earley, who has served since 2011 as chairman and chief executive officer, in a written statement. “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.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “State legal team seeking $2B fine in fatal gas fire is reassigned; city calls for AG probe”

ABAJournal.com: “Top regulatory counsel is off controversial case; four ‘reassigned’ lawyers are back on it”

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