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.