Latest on San Bruno Pipeline Explosion Consequences: Public Shaming and Community Service for PG&E

Finally, after 6-1/2 years, the utility at fault for the horrific San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed 8 people, destroyed 38 homes, and damaged 108 homes in total, will finally face some consequences related to criminal charges filed against the utility.

This evolving saga has been covered multiple times over the years by Here is a quick timeline of what has happened to date:

  • 1948: PG&E Line 132 experiences a longitudinal seam rupture
  • 1956: PG&E relocated 1800+ feet of pipeline, but limited data exists about QA performed on the highly sensitive and critical welds
  • 1958: Pipeline seam leak in Line 300B
  • 1961: Another relocation project replaces some of the pipe from ’56, but not all, records indicate that the old pipeline was of unknown origin/manufacture
  • 1970: New federal regulations issued regarding minimum performance of gas pipelines with a grandfather clause applicable to older installations such as San Bruno
  • 1974: Hydrostatic test failure at Line 300B
  • 1977: Survey of the subject pipeline results in erroneous information about the pipe material being documented that is later added to the PG&E GIS database
  • 1988: About 9 miles south of the explosion, another section of the line experienced a longitudinal seam rupture
  • 1995: Several sections of the pipeline replace as part of seismic retrofitting
  • 2003: PG&E conducts a test that temporarily increased pipeline pressure beyond the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) baseline established in 1970 for the purpose of identifying any defects
  • 2008: Sewer line replacement comes within 9-inches of the gas line, but inspectors expressed confidence in the integrity of the line following sewer work
  • December, 2008: PG&E raises pressure above MAOP again
  • September 9, 2010: Right around the time most residents in the San Bruno neighborhood were settling down for dinner, a massive explosion occurs
  • August 30, 2011: NTSB releases the report where the above information came from
  • April 1, 2014: Federal grand jury indicts PG&E on 12 criminal counts

PG&E’s sentence

According to Bloomberg, the judge overseeing the criminal charges has imposed a unique sentence on the utility:

A San Francisco federal judge on Thursday also directed “high-level personnel” at the utility to do 2,000 hours of community service and sentenced the company to a maximum-allowed fine of $3 million, saying the its crimes were “very serious and pose great risk to the public safety.” During a trial last year, prosecutors backed off a proposal to seek a penalty of as much as $562 million.

In an unusual punishment for a corporate crime, the company was told to place full-page ads in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Wall Street Journal explaining its offenses and what it’s doing to prevent future wrongdoing. In addition, it will spend almost $3 million to advertise on TV, which the company said amounts to about 12,500 60-second spots.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson said on top of the community service requirement for high-level employees, which he said will be monitored by a probation officer, the company as a whole must perform another 8,000 hours of service.


Image courtesy Wikipedia