U.S. sues PG&E for 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion deaths

PG&E Corp. (PCG), 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.

Federal 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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Gullo in federal court in San Francisco at[email protected]; Mark Chediak in San Francisco at[email protected]

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