U.S. Charges California Utility Over Pipeline Explosion That Killed 8

April 2, 2014

PG&E Corp., owner of California’s largest utility, was charged with 12 pipeline safety violations by the U.S. government for a 2010 natural gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, California.

The criminal case comes three and half years after the explosion in San Bruno, a city with 42,000 residents about 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) south of San Francisco. A 54-year-old natural gas pipeline, 30 inches (76.2 centimeters) in diameter and located under a street intersection in a residential area, exploded just after 6 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2010. It sent a 28-foot section of pipe weighing 3,000 pounds flying through the air, fueled by blowing natural gas, according to a state report.

The explosion created a crater about 72 feet (21.9 meters) long by 26 feet wide, completely destroyed 38 homes and damaged another 70. Eight people were killed and 66 injured.

figs-pipelineFederal and state regulators investigating the blast determined that inadequate quality controls, deficient management and a corporate culture that emphasized profits over safety caused the accident, which has cost PG&E’s shareholders $1.4 billion in mandated safety work and other expenses.

The explosion precipitated the retirement of former PG&E chairman and chief executive officer Peter Darbee and forced the company to freeze its dividend.

A $2.25 billion penalty for the explosion proposed by California regulatory staff could force the company into bankruptcy, PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony Earley has said.

Since the San Bruno accident, PG&E has replaced 127 miles of pipeline in its system, retrofitted 268 miles more to allow for in-line inspections and opened a “state-of-the-art” gas control center, the company said. The system has 6,750 miles of gas transmission pipe.

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