PG&E Guilty of Violating Pipeline Safety Law and Obstructing Investigation

A federal jury found Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) guilty of multiple willful violations of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 (PSA) and obstructing an agency proceeding.


The PSA violations were uncovered in the course of an investigation initiated after the fatal San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010.  The obstruction charge was added later after investigators discovered PG&E attempted to mislead the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) during its investigation.

The verdict follows a five and a half week trial before U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the Northern District of California.

The PSA-related charges stem from PG&E’s recordkeeping and pipeline “integrity management” practices.

Federal officials alleged that PG&E willfully failed to address recordkeeping deficiencies concerning its larger natural gas pipelines knowing that their records were inaccurate or incomplete.

Federal officials alleged that PG&E willfully failed to identify threats to its larger natural gas pipelines and to take appropriate actions to investigate the seriousness of threats to pipelines when they were identified and that PG&E willfully failed to adequately prioritize as high risk, and properly assess, threatened pipelines after they were over-pressurized, as required by the PSA and its regulations.

On April 1, 2014, a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California returned an indictment charging PG&E with multiple pipeline violations.

In finding PG&E guilty, the jury concluded that the company knowingly and willfully violated the PSA and its regulations between 2007 and 2010.

The jury found PG&E guilty of five out of the 11 charged separate violations of the PSA.

The charge of obstructing an agency proceeding was included in a superseding indictment that was filed on July 29, 2014.

The charge centers around PG&E’s use of a letter in an attempt to mislead the NTSB during an investigation.

The NTSB began its investigation immediately after the deadly San Bruno explosion.  During the course of the NTSB’s investigation, PG&E provided a version of a policy outlining the way in which PG&E addressed manufacturing threats on its pipelines.

In accordance with this policy, 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.

Although PG&E was operating under the policy from 2009 through April 5, 2011, the company submitted a letter to the NTSB attempting to withdraw the document.

According to PG&E’s letter, the policy was produced in error and was an unapproved draft.

In finding PG&E guilty of obstructing an agency proceeding, the jury concluded PG&E intentionally and corruptly tried to influence, obstruct or impede the NTSB investigation.

“On occasion, an event occurs that is sufficiently devastating that a public account must be made, either through an admission of wrongdoing and acceptance of responsibility, or through the judgment of the people acting through a jury,” said U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch. “Such an event was the explosion in San Bruno on September 9, 2010, and the physical and emotional injuries suffered by so many that terrible day.”

“In the aftermath of the explosion, our office, along with the District Attorney of San Mateo and the California Attorney General’s Office, charted a course to examine whether PG&E had complied with the federal regulations designed to keep people safe, or willfully disregarded those regulations.”

“To honor the memory of those who perished in the explosion required nothing less.  The jury has determined that PG&E management chose willfully not to follow certain of those regulations.”

“This verdict in no way diminishes or calls into question the hard, honest work done by PG&E’s employees in the field, as they labor tirelessly day and night to provide us with light and heat.  It is a reflection only of the choices and priorities set at the top.”

“PG&E provides gas and electricity to the citizens of Northern California and must adhere to certain safety requirements and financial limitations.  We hope that the verdict today insures that PG&E’s management will adhere faithfully to this compact in the future.”


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