Criminal investigation opens in San Bruno blast 

The San Bruno tragedy is the focus of a criminal investigation by a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement officials, PG&E informed its shareholders this week.

In a filing with the federal Securities Exchange Commission on Monday, PG&E stated that on June 9, the company had been notified that “representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice, the California Attorney General’s Office, and the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, have formed a task force to investigate the San Bruno accident.”

“The Utility will cooperate fully with the members of the task force,” the statement read.

The investigation is one of many that began after a PG&E gas transmission pipeline in San Bruno exploded Sept. 9, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. The National Transportation Safety Board has been tasked with determining a cause of the explosion, and is expected to release a report in September.

How much fault or negligence the NTSB finds in PG&E’s maintenance of its gasline, or in the company’s handling of the emergency after the explosion, will likely inform any criminal investigation into the incident.  

The NTSB has revealed in preliminary reports that PG&E had flawed records of the pipeline that exploded, that the utility had estimated the strength of the pipeline using methods that today are considered inadequate, and that it did not educate the local fire department about the presence of a massive transmission line in the area.

PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson said the company is expecting to spend approximately $350 million to $550 million in work associated with the incident in 2011 alone.

In its statement to the SEC, PG&E stated that its financial condition “could be materially and adversely affected if criminal fines or penalties are imposed on the Utility.”

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