PG&E facing more possible fines just ahead of San Bruno anniversary

(Brian Carmody)
September 6, 2013 7:57:24 PM PDT
PG&E is facing more possible fines and penalties for yet another error in its records and for the way it let the California Public Utilities Commission know about that error. It comes just days before the three year anniversary of the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion.

On Sept. 9, 2010, an underground, high pressure PG&E natural gas pipeline ruptured and exploded into flames. Eight people were killed and 38 homes destroyed in San Bruno's Glenview neighborhood.

After that, PG&E reduced the pressure on its gas system on the Peninsula. When it asked for permission to bring the pressure back up, it was required to show the CPUC it was safe to do so. Now it turns out the regulator granted that permission based on some faulty information.

PG&E did let the commission know about the error, but only months after discovering it. And the CPUC is also concerned about the way PG&E submitted the correction, just before a long holiday weekend, through a process normally used for much less serious corrections.

San Bruno's city manager says she's not sure a fine will change PG&E's practices, but it might have other benefits.

"Certainly, a penalty fine or the stiffest possible sanction as a result of this proceeding appears to be appropriate, if only to draw attention to the fact that deficiencies continue to exist" Connie Jackson said.

The faulty records at issue showed that a pipe in San Carlos, near the intersection of Brittan and Rogers avenues, was seamless, when PG&E discovered last October that it actually had a seam weld when it went in to fix a leak. But PG&E didn't try to submit that correction to the CPUC until July, just before a holiday weekend, which San Bruno lawyers believed was timed to go unnoticed by interested parties.

PG&E's lead attorney on all San Bruno matters, Joseph Malkin, testified Friday that there is no safety issue and there never was. And that, "We filed as quickly as we could without any thought on my part that this was the day before July Fourth."

Sixteen of the 38 destroyed homes are rebuilt. Five more are under construction. But the three year anniversary weighs heavily on residents, who say it feels like yesterday.

"It's a tough time for us and it's made more difficult by the knowledge that safety issues continue to exist," Jackson said.

The CPUC will decide on any penalties or fines against PG&E sometime after October.


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