Judge dismisses some pipeline-related charges against PG&E

A federal judge in San Francisco Wednesday dismissed 15 of 28 pipeline-safety-related criminal charges against PG&E Co., but said his action doesn’t affect the seriousness of the case.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson also turned down motions by the San Francisco-based utility for dismissal of the remaining charges.

PG&E is scheduled to go on trial in Henderson’s court on March 8 on the 13 counts left in place.

The criminal charges are one of several state and federal proceedings stemming from investigations into PG&E’s pipeline practices following the fatal rupture and explosion of a high-pressure natural gas
transmission pipeline in San Bruno in 2010.

Eight people died, 66 were injured, and dozens of houses were destroyed and damaged in the explosion and ensuing fire.

In another of the proceedings, the California Public Utilities Commission in April levied a record $1.6 billion penalty and fine on PG&E for violations related to the explosion, record-keeping practices and pipeline operations in densely populated areas.

The federal criminal charges now include one count of obstructing justice in a National Transportation Safety Board probe and 12 counts of violating record-keeping and pipeline integrity management requirements of the U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act.

Henderson ruled on five motions filed by PG&E lawyers in July and September that sought dismissal of all counts in the 2014 federal grand jury indictment for several different reasons.

The judge rejected four of those motions, but granted PG&E’s request for dismissal of some overlapping charges related to the pipeline integrity management requirements.

Henderson wrote that instead of charging violations on a pipeline-by-pipeline basis, the indictment should group the alleged violations into five general categories related to the requirements.

The alleged violations in each category are “a single course of conduct,” Henderson wrote.

At the same time, the judge said, “This conclusion does not diminish how serious PG&E’s alleged failure to heed the integrity management regulations was, or how dangerous it was for PG&E to fail so many times
over.”

The NTSB concluded that the cause of the San Bruno explosion was a defective seam weld in a pipeline segment that was incorrectly listed in PG&E records as seamless.

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