PG&E charged with obstructing investigation into deadly San Bruno explosion

Jeff Chiu/AP File photoIn this Sept.10

A federal grand jury on Tuesday charged PG&E with obstructing justice by allegedly lying to investigators in connection with the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured 58 and leveled dozens of homes.

The superseding indictment alleges that San Francisco-based PG&E obstructed the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation that began immediately after the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno's Crestmoor neighborhood. PG&E has also been slapped with 27 additional charges of violating the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968.

The initial indictment handed down in April included 12 counts of violating the act.

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane commended the U.S. Attorney's Office for bringing the “very serious” charges against PG&E to help ensure such a disaster “never happens again.”

“We're very happy and confident that the federal government is going to take this situation by the horns and get to the bottom of this,” Ruane told The San Francisco Examiner.

He added that each indictment, however, reopens the community's wounds of the deadly day.

“We're coming up on four years where we lost eight neighbors,” Ruane said. “All of these [investigations] coming to the surface brings us right back to that day four years ago.”

Prosecutors say PG&E hampered the investigation by lying to investigators soon after the blast. In particular, PG&E officials are accused of telling NTSB investigators that the safety procedures being followed were correct and approved.

The other charges accuse the utility of failing to act on threats in its pipeline system even after the problems were identified by its own inspectors. The indictment charges PG&E with keeping shoddy records, failing to identify safety threats and failing to act when threats were found.

Investigators found that PG&E had inaccurate records on its more than 6,000 miles of gas transmission lines, and that as a result, it hadn't tested for the defective seam weld that ruptured a pipeline and ignited a fireball.

No employees or executives have been charged in the San Bruno disaster. Prosecutors could still file another indictment charging individuals.

The utility announced in June that it was expecting the new indictment. PG&E spokesman Greg Snapper said company officials had not yet seen it.

“However, based on all of the evidence we have seen to date, we do not believe that the charges are warranted and that, even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe and reliable energy,” he said in a prepared statement.

The new charges expose PG&E to more than $1 billion in fines. It had previously faced up to a $6 million fine under the old indictment.

In addition, the utility is facing lawsuits and $2.5 billion in civil fines from regulators, including the state Public Utilities Commission. San Bruno city officials on Monday demanded the head of the PUC resign, alleging the agency had improper contacts with PG&E following the release of emails.

PG&E said in May that it has committed $2.7 billion over the next several years for safety-related work following the incident.

Its profits were weighed down in its most recent quarter by $40 million in legal and safety improvement costs tied to its natural gas business.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bay Area NewsCrimeCrime & CourtsPG&ESan Bruno explosionU.S Attorney's office

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