PG&E facing hefty fines in fatal 2010 San Bruno blast 

click to enlarge National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman stands next to the damaged pipe from the San Bruno natural-gas explosion. - AP FILE PHOTO
  • AP file photo
  • National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman stands next to the damaged pipe from the San Bruno natural-gas explosion.

Systemic violations by PG&E of California law and state and federal safety regulations led to the 2010 pipeline disaster in San Bruno, state regulators concluded Thursday — a move that could result in significant fines for the company.

Describing a “corporate culture that emphasized profits over safety,” a report from the California Public Utilities Commission said PG&E failed to follow accepted industry practice when installing the pipeline, failed to comply with federal pipeline integrity management requirements, kept inadequate records, and poorly collected and reported data.

The agency also excoriated the utility’s emergency procedures and allegedly poor response to the incident.

The report opens an agency penalty consideration case on the disaster that will include public hearings and may conclude with “monetary fines and other remedies,” the commission said in a statement.

“We are now, essentially, giving PG&E its day in court,” commission President Michael Peevey said in the statement. “If we determine PG&E has violated the law, we are prepared to impose very significant fines.”

Last month, the CPUC approved a $38 million fine against PG&E for a 2008 natural gas explosion in Rancho Cordova near Sacramento that resulted in one fatality.

The San Bruno explosion leveled an entire neighborhood, killing eight people and injuring dozens.

PG&E President Chris Johns said in a statement Thursday that the company was taking the CPUC findings seriously and cooperating with the investigation.

“It is clear that PG&E’s past gas operations were not what they should have been,” Johns said. “We have admitted these shortcomings, and we are committed to raising the level of pipeline safety to new, higher standards.”

National Transportation Safety Board investigators said last year that the company had several chances to avert the disaster, but failed to do so. NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said her agency’s investigation showed “troubling revelations about a company that exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight and government agencies that placed a blind trust in operators to the detriment of public safety.”

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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