Amid a continuing dark cloud of legal and regulatory accusations of wrongdoing in its natural gas operations, San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) on Tuesday celebrated what it touted as an unprecedented amount of technical recognition for a U.S. natural gas utility.
PG&E received two international certifications for "best-in-class operations standards" in its gas operations, including its much maligned transmission pipeline system that earlier this year was assessed federal criminal charges related to a fatal pipeline rupture and explosion in San Bruno, CA, in September 2010 (see Daily GPI, April 2).
Aside from the federal court charges, PG&E also is facing penalties from the California Public Utilities Commission, whose safety staff last year recommended $2.25 billion in fines for the combination utility due to its shortcoming leading up to and following the San Bruno explosion (see Daily GPI, June 7, 2013).
"PG&E is one of the first utilities in the world to hold both the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 55001: 2014 and Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 55-1: 2008 certifications," said a spokesperson for the combination utility.
Early this year, Lloyd's Register (LR), a global engineering, technical and business services organization, traveled throughout PG&E's 70,000-square-mile service area, reviewing safety practices, information and risk management policies, along with employee qualifications, emergency response protocols and another 20 critical areas of asset management.
The international certification process also involved what PG&E called a series of "rigorous, independent audits and interviews" of more than 150 PG&E management, field employees and contractors.
In response to skeptical news media questions, a Lloyd's representative said it does not do the audit process lightly, and where the LR representatives look within a company is determined by Lloyd's. "We lead the investigation; we aren't led," the representative said.
"The underlying requirements of the ISO 55001: 2014 and PAS 55-1: 2008 standards are the foundation for PG&E's safety management system," the spokesperson said. ISO and PAS certifications are supposed to be known for their highest level of standards applied to utilities' management of their largest physical assets.
PG&E President Chris Johns said the certifications represents two and a half years of work, and make PG&E the only U.S. utility to have both certifications. The head of the gas system, Executive Vice President Nick Stavropoulos, said the utility's 5,000-employee gas system accomplished a "daunting challenge" to get the certification recognizing it has lowered the safety risks in system operations.
"Even with the $2.5 billion investment we have made, we know this is only the beginning; our work will never be done," said Stavropoulos, who added that PG&E must "continue to earn" the dual certifications.