A federal criminal court case against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) for its alleged illegal actions and subsequent coverup related to the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline rupture and explosion began last Friday in San Francisco (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13, 2010). Attorneys argued whether a corporation — not specific individuals — committed a crime.

Prosecutors said they will attempt to make the case that the multi-billion-dollar San Francisco-based combination utility — not specific employees — made a series of “deliberate and illegal” choices regarding covering up alleged negligence in the incident that has had a far-reaching impact on the natural gas pipeline industry. PG&E has been slapped with billions of dollars of fines and penalties by state regulators (see Daily GPI, April 9, 2015). The disaster also sparked national investigations and legislation on pipeline safety.

Hallie Hoffman, an assistant U.S. attorney, outlined the government’s case to a jury in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. One of PG&E defense attorneys, Steven Bauer said individual employees at PG&E are not guilty of any criminal acts, and he used the fact that the federal prosecutors have not named any individuals in their court action as support for his argument.

The company has maintained a not guilty plea in the jury trial. While no individuals are facing jail time, PG&E could be slapped with up to $562 million in fines if convicted on all 27 counts brought by prosecutors.

A deputy managing director at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Stephen Klejst, testified that PG&E wasn’t fully cooperative with the federal agency’s investigation into the blast. The investigation eventually was very critical of both the utility and the California Public Utilities Commission, according to local news reports in the San Jose Mercury-News (see Daily GPI, Aug. 31, 2011).