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.