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Pacific Gas and Electric Company was indicted on 12 felony counts today in relation to the 2010 explosion in a San Francisco Bay neighborhood that killed eight people.

Thirty-eight San Bruno homes were leveled when a natural gas pipeline exploded on September 9, 2010, an incident not unlike what happened in Harlem last month. The full indictment is here, but the charges relate to the following violations:

  • Failure to gather and and integrate relevant data to identify all potential threats to a gas transmission pipeline
  • Failure to maintain certain repair records for a gas transmission pipeline
  • Failure to identify and evaluate potential treats to a gas transmission pipeline
  • Failure to include all potential threats and to select a suitable threat assessment method for a gas transmission pipeline
  • Failure to prioritize a gas transmission pipeline with an unstable manufacturing threat
  • Failure to prioritize and assess a gas transmission pipeline with an unstable manufacturing threat

That's a lot of failures.

According to the complaint, Line 132 -- the pipeline that exploded -- was put in the ground in 1956 with the incomplete seam weld that would eventually cause the explosion already in place. Yet incomplete or missing records for the line -- some caused when they were transferred to a computerized database in the '90s -- and failure to inspect it meant PG&E never found out about the flaw in 54 years. 

"We commend the diligence of the U.S. attorney and look forward to a measure of justice that this indictment will bring to the victims and the community of San Bruno," City manager Connie Jackson told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Though these are criminal charges, no one will actually be going to jail (though the AP points out that "superseding indictments" could still be filed against individuals). The stiffest penalty PG&E faces is a $6 million fine. The company faces a much larger fine than that from California's Public Utilities Commission, which is recommending a fine of $2.25 billion.

Of course, PG&E customers are the ones who will suffer here -- the company has already tried to raise its rates by 43 percent to pay for upgrades to its pipeline system in the wake of the explosion. You know, the stuff it was supposed to be doing all along but is only doing now that it actually has to.

The charges came as no surprise to PG&E. A few days ago, it told shareholders to expect them. The company's chairman and CEO Tony Earley said in a press release that "San Bruno was a tragic accident. We've taken accountability and are deeply sorry."

The release went on to say that the company "believes that its employees did not intentionally violate the federal Pipeline Safety Act, and that even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy."

The explosion caused a massive fire that burned for 90 minutes before PG&E figured out how to shut off the gas.


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