A federal grand jury has charged California’s second largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., obstructed a federal investigation of the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.
The superseding indictment issued Tuesday adds charges to an existing indictment filed in April and alleges the fine, if convicted, should be twice the $565 million in losses suffered by the victims, or twice the alleged $281 million in gains for PG&E as a result of the alleged violations.
PG&E was accused of obstructing the National Transportation Safety Board inquiry into potential violations of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act almost immediately after the San Bruno blast that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
The indictment alleges that during the NTSB inquiry PG&E provided a version of its policy outlining the way it addressed manufacturing threats to safety on its pipelines. PG&E later withdrew that policy claiming it was a draft produced in error.
But the government contends PG&E had been operating under that “draft” version from 2009 to April 2011.
“The consequence of this practice was that PG&E did not prioritize as high-risk, and properly assess, many of its oldest natural gas pipelines, which ran through urban and residential areas,” according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.
The indictment includes 27 counts of knowingly and willfully violating the Pipeline Safety Act.
The penalty for each count is a $500,000 fine or an amount based on twice the gross gain PG&E made as a result of the violations, or twice the losses suffered by the victims.
Representatives of the utility are scheduled to be in court August 18 for arraignment on the new charges.
Case: U.S. v. PG&E, No. CR14-175TEH.