A federal judge has sentenced Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to pay a $3-million fine and undertake a compliance and ethics monitoring program for criminal actions related to the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people and injured several dozen others, the U.S. Dept. of Justice says.
Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Jan. 26 imposed the maximum fine for each of several counts of violating the federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act and for one count of obstruction of justice.
Henderson also ordered the San Francisco-based company to perform community service during a five-year probation, the maximum allowable period. In addition he directed PG&E to develop "an effective compliance and ethics program" within six months. An independent monitor will be named to oversee the company's compliance with the program and inspect its records.
The office of Brian J. Stretch, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, said on Jan. 26 that officials there are reviewing applications for the monitor's job.
Last August a federal jury found PG&E guilty of five willful violations of the Pipeline Safety Act and one count of obstructing the National Transportation Safety Board’s probe of the accident. In all, the jury weighed 12 charges against the company.
DOJ said in a statement that evidence in the trial showed that the company failed to fix recordkeeping shortcomings that it knew existed for its larger pipelines and that it also "willfully failed to identify as high risk and properly assess pipelines after they were over pressurized," as the pipeline safety law and regulations mandated.
Besides the $3-million fine, the utility company also was ordered to spend up to $3 million more on an information program to “publicize its criminal conduct,“ DOJ said, and outline actions it will take to prevent other similar misdeeds.
Henderson also directed PG&E to perform 10,000 hours of community service, including 2,000 hours carried out by “high level” workers, according to DOJ. The judge indicated he expected that as many service hours as possible would take place in San Bruno.
According to the NTSB’s final accident report, on Sept. 9, 2010, a 30-in-diameter, 28-ft-long section of pipeline ruptured in a residential area of San Bruno, setting off a fire that destroyed 38 houses and damaged 70 others.
PG&E said in a statement that is committed to making itself “the safest and most reliable energy provider in America and to re-earning [local communities’] trust through our actions.” It added, “Of course, words are not enough, and we expect to be judged by our actions.”
The company said it had spent billions of dollars on such steps as replacing hundreds of miles of pipeline, installing new emergency shut-off valves and setting up a new gas-safety operations center.
It added that “we fully recognize that we will always have more work to do, regardless of the significant safety actions and investments we've made.”