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PG&E Expects Criminal Charges for San Bruno Explosion

In a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) said Thursday it expects the federal government to level criminal charges for the 2010 natural gas transmission pipeline rupture and explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, about 10 miles south of San Francisco (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13, 2010).

The SEC filing said company officials have been in discussions with the U.S. Attorney's Office in an effort to reach what the utility called a "fair resolution" of the ongoing federal investigation of the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion.

While a PG&E spokesman said the utility wants to continue talks with the federal officials, it now expects that the U.S. Attorney will charge that PG&E's past operating practices violated the federal Pipeline Safety Act in several areas, including record keeping, pipeline integrity management, and the identification of pipeline threats.

PG&E said it believes criminal charges are not merited and none of its employees "intentionally violated" the federal pipeline safety law. "Even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe, reliable, affordable, clean energy," the spokesman said.

PG&E pledged to maintain a "strong safety focus" and predicted that the federal legal process would take a long time.

Since San Bruno the utility has spent billions of dollars to upgrade and enhance the safety of its natural gas system operations. This has included separating the electric and gas operating units in the utility and bringing in a new gas operations management team.

"San Bruno was a tragic accident that caused a great deal of pain for many people," said CEO Tony Earley. "We're accountable for that and make no excuses. Most of all, we are deeply sorry...We've learned the tragic lesson of San Bruno that safety must always come first. Toward this end, we've implemented enormous change here at PG&E."

Earley took over the top spot at PG&E in 2011 after Peter Darbee, who was CEO at the time of the San Bruno incident, resigned suddenly (see Daily GPI, April 26, 2011; Aug. 10, 2011).

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