Criminal Query Up Next for Pipeline Blast

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 @ 11:06 PM gHale


Now it is time to assess criminal blame into the fatal explosion last year of a natural-gas pipeline owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. (PG&E) as the U.S. Department of Justice is leading a criminal investigation, company officials said.

The Justice Department told PG&E’s utility the agency had formed a task force with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the accident, PG&E wrote in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Sept. 9 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, killed eight people, injured several others and destroyed 38 homes.

PG&E said the utility would “cooperate fully with the members of the task force.” The company added its financial condition and cash flows could be hurt if the investigation led to criminal fines or penalties.

The Justice Department probe is the latest in a string of investigations into the San Bruno pipeline explosion and PG&E’s conduct before the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been investigating the cause of the explosion and has issued several pipeline-safety recommendations based on problems it found in the San Bruno investigation.

While the NTSB’s final report is still pending, the agency has suggested in interim reports that poor record-keeping and a lack of safety tests by PG&E likely masked manufacturing defects in the 55-year-old pipeline. The agency also suggested the local fire department may not have had the information it needed to react properly to the pipeline rupture.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which has been assisting the NTSB, launched a separate probe to determine whether PG&E’s poor record keeping violated any rules or laws that might warrant penalties. The CPUC also is considering new pipeline-safety rules for PG&E and other pipeline operators in the state and has promised to beef up its oversight of PG&E and the state’s pipelines.



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