Posts Tagged ‘PG&E’
Wednesday, November 18, 2015 @ 09:11 AM gHale
A ruptured natural gas line exploded Friday in rural Central California, sending flames 200 feet into the air, killing one person and injuring two others before officials were able to shut it down, authorities said.
The blast occurred on the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) line after someone cut the line by using heavy equipment in a farm field south of town around 3:30 p.m., Kern County fire Capt. Tom Ellison said. The pipeline was about 12 feet underground when struck, but officials said it is unclear what kind of work was going on.
Video from drivers on nearby roads showed two enormous flames flaring into the sky.
The fire destroyed a nearby home, and Ellison said the two people who sustained injuries were from the home. A child was also in the home, but not injured, Ellison said, adding that he could see the flames responding to the call from six miles away.
“The fire burned so intensely,” he said. “Everything was gone. It was black.”
The operator of the heavy equipment died from injuries, Ellison said.
The two injured people received second- and third-degree burns over 20 to 30 percent of their bodies, Hall Ambulance officials said.
Workers were able to quickly shut down the gas line and the fire was out by 4:30 p.m., said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith. The line underwent inspection between Nov. 10 and 12, Smith said. PG&E did receive notice before of work near the pipeline, but Smith said work notice expired on Nov. 5. There was no current work notice, he said.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015 @ 07:11 PM gHale
Fresno County is facing a fine of more than $100,000 for its role in the April 17 gas line explosion that killed a Fresno County Jail inmate worker and injured 12 others, said officials at the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal OSHA).
The county failed to outline the hazard presented by an underground line at the work site, Cal OSHA officials said.
The county disagrees with the state’s violation notice and is appealing the fines, said Paul Nerland, Fresno County’s interim director of personnel services.
Cal OSHA’s report said a county worker severed the 12-inch Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) gas line, leading to an explosion that shot flames 150 feet into the air and threw the worker from his front loader. Nearby workers at the Fresno County Sheriff’s Foundation shooting range suffered burns and one died from injuries caused by the explosion.
A Fresno County public works employee operated the front-end loader on a road formed over a berm that sat above the shooting range, near Highway 99 and the San Joaquin River.
The Cal-OSHA report describes the work being done on the site as “re-establishing and widening an existing access road which had eroded and building up access ramps on the east and west side of the access road.”
The fines were for four serious violations and one general violation totaling $101,125. The four serious violations led to fines of $25,000 each. The general violation was failure to call the “dig-alert” 811 phone number to find out if there were underground utilities in the project’s vicinity. That fine was $1,125.
Among the serious violations, the state document said, the county “did not make a thorough survey of the conditions of the site to determine … the predictable hazards to employees with respect to underground utilities, such as an existing natural gas line.”
The county also ended up fined for failing to mark up the excavation site and not seeking a positive response from the pipeline owner about the existence of the gas line. Other violations ended up related to site work done without determining existence of the pipeline.
The county corrected all the violations, state documents said.
Denny Boyles, a PG&E spokesman, said the utility’s “primary focus remains on the safe operation of our gas pipeline system and educating the public about the importance of digging safely.”
A 260-page report prepared by Exponent, a consulting firm for the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), said in July the “PG&E line ruptured when it was struck by a front loader that was operating in the area at the time of the incident. The significant gouging, scraping and deformation present at the rupture location could only have been caused by contact with the front-loader bucket.”
The report was not the final word on the PUC’s investigation before fault is determined, agency officials said.
In its report, Exponent ruled out the possibility of a bullet striking the gas line and causing the 19-inch fracture that triggered the blast. It also said “the cause of the rupture cannot be attributed to inadequate material properties or manufacturing defects.”
Monday, April 13, 2015 @ 02:04 PM gHale
PG&E’s safety culture will now go under the microscope after regulators said the utility is safe, but not safe enough.
That comes after PG&E ended up fined $1.6 billion Thursday for causing the fatal gas-pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, over four years ago, after a hearing marked by emotional statements from victims of the blast and sharp words about continued flaws in the utility’s safety record.
“PG&E is safer. But I just don’t believe PG&E is safe enough,” Michael Picker, president of the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), said after the PUC voted 4-0 to levy the penalty. Citing numerous lapses involving PG&E’s sprawling natural gas pipeline system since the 2010 San Bruno explosion. Picker said he was ordering the PUC to conduct a wide-ranging probe into PG&E’s safety culture.
The $1.6 billion fine — which exceeds the $1.45 billion the utility reported in profit in 2014 — is not the last of PG&E’s legal troubles. It has already been hit with multiple fines and penalties, still must confront a 28-count criminal indictment on federal charges and is under investigation by state prosecutors who are probing the email controversy. Search warrants served by the state attorney general at the residences of Michael Peevey, who stepped down at the end of 2014 as PUC president and was replaced by Picker, and former PG&E regulatory executive Brian Cherry show criminal investigators were seeking evidence of improper communications, judge shopping, bribery and obstruction of justice involving the utility and the state agency.
Investigators believe a combination of PG&E’s flawed record keeping and shoddy maintenance, coupled with the PUC’s lax oversight, were the key factors behind the explosion that killed eight and wrecked a quiet San Bruno neighborhood.
The $1.6 billion penalty is the largest ever against a utility in the United States. The largest previous penalty was a $101 million punishment against El Paso Natural Gas for a fatal explosion in New Mexico in 2000.
Picker questioned whether PG&E is too big to provide safe utility services.
“Is the organization simply too large, being spread across a sizable portion of a large state, and encompassing diverse functions such as gas transmission and gas distribution, as well as electric service, to succeed at safety?” Picker said.
Picker pointed to safety breaches at the Metcalf electricity substation in South San Jose and gas system incidents in Kern County, Carmel, Morgan Hill, Castro Valley, Cupertino and Milpitas — all of which occurred since the September 2010 explosion — as examples of PG&E’s ongoing safety flaws.
Yet the PUC also stumbled in its oversight of PG&E, Picker acknowledged.
“We failed,” Picker said. “PG&E violated its public trust. But we weren’t vigilant enough.”
The new ruling requires that PG&E shareholders pay $850 million for gas system safety improvements, the company refund $400 million to gas customers, and PG&E pay a $300 million fine to the state.
“Since the 2010 explosion of our natural gas transmission pipeline in San Bruno, we have worked hard to do the right thing for the victims, their families and the community of San Bruno,” PG&E spokesman Keith Stephens said. PG&E said it won’t appeal the PUC penalty.
San Francisco-based PG&E already spent or committed to spend $2.8 billion on shareholder-funded safety improvements to its pipeline system, replaced more than 800 miles of cast-iron pipes of the type that failed in San Bruno with modern pipes, and installed more than 200 gas valves that can operate automatically or end up controlled remotely. The utility also has opened a state-of-the-art control center in San Ramon that is the nerve center of PG&E’s gas system.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015 @ 03:01 PM gHale
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is facing $530,000 in fines for safety violations for failing to “immediately excavate and examine pipelines that showed signs of signs of potential corrosion” and repair potentially hazardous defects, said the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
The fines include $430,000 for violations first discovered during an audit that began in September 2012, and confirmed by another investigation by the regulatory agency that “lasted in 2014.”
The utility ended up fined another $100,000 for letting non-qualified personnel perform field work, causing potential hazards for the public and utility employees. Investigators found those violations during an audit started in November 2013.
“We’re evaluating the citations and it’s important for our customers to know that since these audits took place, we’ve taken action by making significant process improvements,” said Donald Cutler, a PG&E spokesman. “We are working to resolve the issues to the satisfaction of the CPUC.”
PG&E has 10 days to pay up or contest the fines, the CPUC said.
The safety citations are small when you look at the other costs PG&E incurred since the 2010 San Bruno explosion, including a $70 million settlement with the city of San Bruno, $565 million to settle claims with San Bruno victims and families, and a $1.4 billion fine imposed by the CPUC last September, along with $635 million in repairs.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 @ 06:09 PM gHale
It is one thing to talk about a cyber attack on a power plant, but a physical attack takes on another look entirely.
That is because an attack last year on the Silicon Valley’s power grid appears to have involved only one shooter and did not require access to technology or a high degree of training, an FBI official said.
John Lightfoot, who manages the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area, spoke at a utility industry conference in San Francisco Tuesday and reiterated the bureau’s position that there is no indication the April 2013 shooting of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) power station outside San Jose was an act of terrorism.
Jon Wellinghoff, former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, called the attack a sophisticated act of terrorism and raised concerns about the security of the nation’s power grid. Other officials have echoed his concerns.
Lighthouse said the attack was not difficult to execute. Though more than one person may have been involved in the full incident, FBI investigators think there was just one shooter, he said. Additionally, Lighthouse said many of the shots missed the target.
“We don’t think this was a sophisticated attack,” Lighthouse said in a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The incident began when one or more people lifted heavy manhole covers south of San Jose, climbed under the road and cut AT&T fiber optic cables, temporarily knocking out 911 service and phone service, sheriff’s officials have said.
About 15 minutes later, someone fired a high-powered rifle into a nearby PG&E substation, damaging numerous transformers.
Wellinghoff, who was in office during the incident, has said he reached his conclusion after consulting with Defense Department experts.
Lighthouse said the attack does not meet the bureau’s definition of terrorism. The FBI is not aware of any political or social agenda the incident was able to further, and Lighthouse said no one has claimed responsibility for it.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 @ 09:04 PM gHale
Facing 12 criminal felony counts that allege it intentionally violated federal pipeline safety laws in connection with the 2010 natural gas explosion in San Bruno that killed 8 people, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes, PG&E pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday.
The utility, whose executives weren’t present for the arraignment, entered the not guilty plea through its attorneys at a hearing at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
If PG&E ended up convicted on all 12 felony counts, the utility could face a fine of up to $6 million. But the penalties could exceed $6 million if the court finds the company gained financially from its misconduct or if the victims’ losses come into play, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case.
San Francisco-based PG&E, in a news release issued after the arraignment, said, “While we don’t believe any employee intentionally violated federal pipeline safety regulations, the legal process will ensure that all of the facts related to this tragic event are fully reviewed.”
It characterized the San Bruno blast as “a tragic accident,” and added: “We’re accountable for that and make no excuses. Most of all, we are deeply sorry.”
PG&E said it committed $2.7 billion to upgrade and improve its century-old natural gas system. In an earlier filing, it warned securities regulators and its investors that it could end up forced to accept court-supervised control by an outside authority of some or all of the utility’s natural gas operations.
In a separate proceeding before the state Public Utilities Commission, PG&E faces fines of up to $2 billion as its punishment for the San Bruno explosion.
After a pair of administrative law judges at the PUC review the facts related to the potential fines and issue a proposed ruling, the five-member PUC will make a final decision, expected before the end of the year.
Thursday, April 3, 2014 @ 05:04 PM gHale
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) is facing federal felony counts involving safety violations linked to a deadly 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The indictment charges the utility with 12 felony violations of federal pipeline safety laws, which could carry a total possible fine of $6 million, or more if the court decides it somehow benefited financially from the disaster.
Federal prosecutors said PG&E knowingly relied on erroneous and incomplete information when assessing the safety of the pipeline that eventually ruptured, sparked a fireball and leveled 38 homes in San Bruno, CA.
Nearly four years later, the neighborhood where eight people died and dozens injured is still recovering.
“The citizens of Northern California deserve to have their utility providers put the safety of the community first,” U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said.
The indictment accuses the company of failing to act on threats in its pipeline system even after their own inspectors identified the problems.
About a year after the explosion, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board found these lapses by PG&E led to the blast.
The board also characterized the explosion as an “organizational incident,” not a simple mechanical failure.
PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Tony Earley said Tuesday the company is holding itself accountable and is deeply sorry.
“We have worked hard to do the right thing for victims, their families and the community, and we will continue to do so,” Earley said in a statement. “We want all of our customers and their families to know that nothing will distract us from our mission of transforming this 100-plus-year-old system into the safest and most reliable natural gas system in the country.”
PG&E Corp., the parent company of PG&E, said on its website the “federal criminal charges filed today have no merit.”
“PG&E believes that its employees did not intentionally violate the federal Pipeline Safety Act, and that even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy,” the statement said.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 @ 04:12 PM gHale
The California Public Utilities Commission returned $375,000 Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) paid as a natural-gas safety penalty, so the regulators can legally fine the utility as much as $2.5 billion.
The commission’s safety enforcement division imposed the fine earlier this month in response to a 2012 audit concluding that for more than four decades, PG&E lacked a legally required procedure to systematically monitor its gas-transmission pipelines for problems such as leaks and improper pressure levels.
Without a “unifying” system, PG&E’s gas-safety practices were “disconnected and did not result in effective” monitoring of its major pipelines, the safety division said. PG&E promptly paid the fine.
Not so fast, the regulators said. The agency’s safety arm sent a letter to PG&E withdrawing the citation, along with a check from the state treasurer for $375,000.
The problem for the utilities commission was many of PG&E’s gas-safety shortcomings have been at the center of exhaustive hearings into practices that contributed to the September 2010 explosion of a transmission pipeline in San Bruno. The blast killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, and PG&E is facing as much as $2.5 billion in fines.
Commission legal-division attorneys involved in the San Bruno case were unaware of the $375,000 fine before the safety division issued it. They told attorneys for other parties in the San Bruno case it could trigger a form of regulatory double jeopardy.
In a statement Friday, the commission said it was returning the check to prevent any “confusion” between the conduct that prompted the $375,000 fine and the San Bruno case.
But dropping the citation and returning the money may not eliminate the utilities commission’s problem. Attorneys for parties involved in the San Bruno case said PG&E could point to the lower fine in arguing that a multibillion-dollar penalty for the disaster, which stemmed from many of the same gas-system deficiencies, would be excessive.