PG&E threatened with fines of $1 million for pipeline data 

State regulators are threatening PG&E with fines of $1 million a day or more for what one official describes as an “inexcusable” refusal to come forward with information about its pipeline.

After a San Bruno pipeline explosion killed eight people in September, the utility company was required to re-evaluate how much it pressurizes some 1,800 miles of pipeline throughout its system. Specifically, the California Public Utilities Commission asked PG&E officials to show their lines had been tested or examined in a way that could prove the pipeline can withstand the current maximum operating pressure.

The company was ordered to submit its analysis by Tuesday.

PG&E did so. But Wednesday, CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon slammed the company for failing to fully comply with his agency’s mandate. His written criticism was the harshest yet on the matter, and came from a regulator frequently accused of being too close to the companies it oversees.

Clanon said rather than comply with the CPUC’s explicit order, PG&E officials chose to simply resubmit many of their original justifications of pipeline operating pressure — which did not include any rigorous testing of the lines.

“By its action, PG&E not only is refusing to comply with the plain terms of the Commission’s orders ... but worse, may be placing public safety in jeopardy,” Clanon wrote. “This is particularly inexcusable in the wake of the tragedy at San Bruno.”

Clanon said his agency’s staff will ask the commission to fine PG&E for its failure to comply.  

PG&E’s analysis only produced full records for about 56 percent of pipeline. For much of the other pipeline, the company relied on operating-pressure guidelines that the CPUC had explicitly told it to stop using.

The CPUC will consider the recommendation on March 24, and it could issue fines of $20,000 per violation per day. If it decides PG&E’s continued reliance on old safety guidelines represents multiple instances of wrongdoing, the fines could result in $1 million a day or more.

The pipeline that exploded in San Bruno Sept. 9 set off an inferno that killed or injured dozens of people and destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes. Since then, federal regulators have revealed that the pipeline was a weaker model than the one PG&E believed was there. In January, federal investigators said utility companies should be required to prove their pipelines are being operated safely.

In response to Clanon’s letter, PG&E officials issued a statement saying that although the company has made “good progress on our records validation, we are not satisfied with the results to date and know we have more work to do.”

Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, said PG&E’s failure to find records adequately justifying the operating pressure of so much pipeline is “fairly disturbing news to the people who live on top of those pipelines.”

“This is not what customers want to hear,” Spatt said. “The public keeps getting the impression that PG&E had an extremely, extremely casual attitude toward these pipelines for many years.”

About The Author

Katie Worth

Pin It

Speaking of...

Latest in Bay Area

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation