Federal prosecutors recently charged Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) with several felony counts for the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that caused eight deaths and the destruction of 38 homes in San Bruno, California. The indictment — which was filed on Tuesday, April 1 in San Francisco — levels 12 felony counts and numerous federal safety violations against the utilities company.
"The citizens of Northern California deserve to have their utility providers put the safety of the community first," United States Attorney Melina Haag stated in a press release.
Federal prosecutors ruled that the utilities company was aware of reporting errors yet failed to conduct inspections that could have revealed inherently dangerous conditions on the Bay Area line. The San Bruno explosion was caused by a poorly welded seam on the gas line. PG&E is charged with violating the federal Pipeline Safety Act and has been indicted for:
- Failure to keep accurate and sufficient records — one count
- Failure to identify and address risks to the pipeline — two counts
- The occurrence of and failure to handle over-pressurization on the line — nine counts
These federal violations could carry $500,000 fines per count, or a total $6 million in fines. In addition, California state lawyers are proposing separate actions by the state, which could result in even more fines equaling as much as $2 billion plus penalties. If PG&E is found to have obtained any kind of financial profit from the fatal gas line explosion, this amount count be considerably increased.
Tuesday's indictment marks only the second time in United States history that a company has been charged by the federal government with breaking the law, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. These stiff charges could force a new level of caution, bringing attention to the dangers posed by antiquated pipelines. Tony Earley, CEO of PG&E, stated that the company holds itself accountable and is deeply sorry, but added in a statement quoted by USA Today that the company believes its employees did not intentionally violate federal law and that they were "acting in good faith" in the administration of their duties.
An earlier report conducted by the Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission uncovered a chain of serious errors made by the utilities company in the Bay Area. This report uncovered more than 100 violations spanning a decades-long time period of time leading up to the deadly San Bruno explosion.