Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said Thursday the company will likely face federal criminal charges for its role in a fatal gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.
A disclosure document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission by PG&E Corp. and its subsidiary said the company expects the federal government will bring criminal charges against the utility in connection with the Sept. 9, 2010, explosion of its transmission pipeline in San Bruno.
The blast killed eight people, injured dozens of others and sparked a fireball that laid waste to 38 homes in the bedroom community that still bears scars from the accident.
The company said it has been in discussions with federal prosecutors to reach a resolution, but it now expects federal prosecutors will charge that PG&E’s past operating practices violated numerous federal Pipeline Safety Act requirements. No details were provided about the type of charges anticipated or who might be charged.
Lillian ArauzHaase, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco, said she could not immediately comment.
PG&E President Tony Earley said the company has made fundamental changes to its operations and embraces recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after the explosion.
“San Bruno was a tragic accident that caused a great deal of pain for many people. We’re accountable for that and make no excuses. Most of all, we are deeply sorry,” he said in a statement provided Thursday. “We’ve committed $2.7 billion of shareholders’ money to date and we’re making excellent operational progress. We have more work to do and we intend to do it right.”
About a year after the explosion, NTSB investigators found that a litany of failures by PG&E led to the blast and warned there was no certainty that those problems didn’t exist elsewhere.
The board also made a series of safety recommendations to regulators and the gas industry, concluding the incident wasn’t the result of a simple mechanical failure, but was an “organizational accident.”
San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane hailed the announcement as good news for residents still seeking to heal from the disaster.
“It’s another step in a long process that everyone’s been going through,” said Ruane. “The feds finally think there’s merit to it and we want to see it through.”
Meanwhile, San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson said the city has obviously watched the case with interest.
“The city commends the U.S. attorney’s office and all of the law enforcement agencies involved for their diligence and thorough investigation,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the completion bringing closure to what has been a very difficult and devastating situation for the city of San Bruno.”
Details of the criminal investigation, including possible charges that could result, are not being publicly discussed.
Federal prosecutors previously investigated a different pipeline company after a ruptured line spilled more than 225,000 gallons of gasoline into creeks running through a public park in Bellingham, Wash., causing an explosion. Three people died.
That federal investigation of the Olympic Pipe Line Co. explosion in 1999 ultimately resulted in prison or probation terms for three company officials and a settlement requiring $112 million in penalties and safety improvements.