Did PG&E try to cover up faulty pipeline safety records?
Nearly three years after a deadly pipeline explosion ripped through a San Bruno neighborhood, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. admitted Friday that it gave flawed reports about the safety of its pipelines after the disaster.
At a special California Public Utilities Commission hearing in San Francisco on Friday, PG&E attorneys said the utility worked with bad pipeline records and gave false reports to regulators about the safety of other high-pressure gas lines in San Francisco and the Peninsula.
“These were clearly errors. We called them errors, we filed the erratum to identify them as errors,” PG&E attorney Joseph Malkin said to an administrative law judge during Friday’s hearing.
PG&E admitted to using bad records to mistakenly assume that two gas pipelines were safe to operate. One gas line stretched from Milpitas to San Francisco, while the other was in San Carlos.
In reality, the lines were weak from corrosion and had welded seams, similar to those that failed in San Bruno on the evening of September 9, 2010. Eight people were killed in the pipeline disaster, and 38 homes were destroyed.
San Bruno city officials were stunned by the utility’s admission. “It appears in many respects this is business as usual. We are very disappointed that here we are, three years later, having a conversation like this,” City Manager Connie Jackson told KPIX 5.
“It’s very upsetting and it’s happening over and over again,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.
Watchdog group The Utility Reform Network (TURN) accused PG&E of not only making mistakes, but trying to cover them up by publicly releasing the information before a major holiday.
“They knew that they had provided bad information to the commission back in October 2012, and they didn’t tell the public about it until nine months later,” said Thomas Long of TURN.
A PG&E spokesman said the information was formally released on July 3rd. But he said the utility had already let the CPUC know informally about the errors in April.
“We had been talking proactively with the regulators to let them know what was going on, and what we proposed. And that follows the spirit of what we are doing at PG&E. Over the past three years, we have practiced a very open and transparent way of communicating about what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what we are doing to fix it,” PG&E spokesman Greg Snapper said.
PG&E faces fines of up to $50,000 from the CPUC, for each of five rules it may have violated. The utility already faces more than $2 billion in fines for the 2010 explosion.