PG&E Charged With Multiple Violations Of The Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – On April 1, 2014, a federal grand jury for the Northern District of California returned an indictment charging Pacific Gas and Electric Company (“PG&E”) with multiple violations of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 (“PSA”), announced U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen M. Wagstaffe, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General Special Agent in Charge William Swallow, and FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson. PSA violations were uncovered in the course of an investigation initiated after the fatal San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010.
The indictment alleges that PG&E knowingly and willfully violated the PSA and its regulations between 2003 and 2010. According to the indictment, the charges stem from PG&E’s record keeping and pipeline “integrity management” practices. The indictment alleges that PG&E failed to address recordkeeping deficiencies concerning its larger natural gas pipelines knowing that their records were inaccurate or incomplete.
The indictment also alleges that PG&E failed to identify threats to its larger natural gas pipelines and that PG&E did not take appropriate actions to investigate the seriousness of threats to pipelines when they were identified. In addition, the indictment alleges that PG&E failed to adequately reprioritize and assess threatened pipelines after the pipelines were over pressurized as required by the PSA and its regulations.
“The citizens of Northern California deserve to have their utility providers put the safety of the community first,” said U.S. Attorney Haag. “Today’s indictment of PG&E for violating the minimum safety standards established by the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act reflects the company’s failure to follow that very basic principle. This investigation is the result of strong collaboration among federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities, the California Attorney General’s Office, and the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office. I look forward to continuing to work closely with these partners in our efforts to hold PG&E accountable for their disregard for the safety of our community.”
“Today’s indictment is an important step in providing justice for the individuals, families and community devastated by the 2010 pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno,” said California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. “As alleged in the indictment, PG&E knowingly and willfully failed to identify and evaluate threats to its transmission pipelines, including Line 132 underneath much of San Bruno. When allegedly faced with evidence of transmission line problems, PG&E knowingly and willfully chose not to assess and remediate the problems. My office will continue our work with local and federal partners in prosecuting this matter in federal court and holding PG&E accountable for its alleged conduct."
“The indictment returned by the Grand Jury is an important step in holding PG&E criminally responsible for their willful misconduct,” said San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen M. Wagstaffe. “The San Bruno Police Department and my office will continue to support and work closely with the offices of the United States Attorney and the California Attorney General to bring PG&E to justice.”
“Pipeline safety is a top priority for the Department of Transportation and the Office of Inspector General,” said William Swallow, DOT OIG regional Special Agent-in-Charge. “The lasting impacts among families and the community stemming from the tragic explosion in San Bruno remind us of why it is important to exercise vigorous management and oversight. The DOT OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement and prosecutorial colleagues to ensure that parties responsible for protecting public health and safety are held to the highest standards.”
“The Federal Pipeline Safety Act is designed to guard against risks to life or property in the course of distributing goods and services to entrusting consumers,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the San Francisco Field Office. “This office has the responsibility not only to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States but also to do everything we can to protect the public. The charges alleged in this indictment should be symbolic of the FBI’s commitment to serving justice no matter how long it takes.”
PG&E is charged with 12 separate violations of the PSA. The maximum statutory penalty for each count for a corporation is $500,000 or a fine based on the gain the corporation made as a result of the violation or the loss caused to victims.
An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution is the result of a three-year investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, the California Attorney General’s Office, the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, the United States Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, and the city of San Bruno Police Department.
Arraignment on the indictment in the United States Magistrate Court has not yet been scheduled. Electronic court filings and further procedural and docket information are available at https://ecf.cand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl.