PG&E Found Guilty of Obstruction of Justice in Deadly San Bruno Blast - NBC Bay Area

PG&E Found Guilty of Obstruction of Justice in Deadly San Bruno Blast

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    A federal jury found California's largest utility guilty on Tuesday of misleading investigators about how it was identifying high-risk pipelines after a deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno. Mark Matthews and Jaxon Van Derbeken report. (Published Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016)

    SAN FRANCISCO — A federal jury found California's largest utility guilty on Tuesday of misleading investigators about how it was identifying high-risk pipelines after a deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

    The jury found PG&E not guilty of six of 11 remaining counts that alleged pipeline violations.

    The blast of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. natural gas pipeline six years ago sent a giant plume of fire into the air, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes in a quiet San Bruno neighborhood.

    During the investigation, prosecutors say, the San Francisco-based utility misled federal officials about the standard it was using to identify high-risk pipelines.

    PG&E pleaded not guilty and said its employees did the best they could with ambiguous regulations they struggled to understand.

    The stakes in the case dropped dramatically, however, when prosecutors made the surprising decision several days into jury deliberations not to pursue a potential $562 million fine if PG&E was found guilty of any of the counts.

    The decision, which was approved by a judge, reduced the company's maximum liability to $6 million, prompting criticism that prosecutors were not holding PG&E accountable.

    San Bruno City Attorney Marc Zafferano said it's not about the money.

    "We want the judge to send a message that it’s not OK for PG&E to risk lives my manipulating data and not having federal investigations," he said.

    According to prosecutors, the standard PG&E used to identify high-risk pipelines violated safety regulations and led to a failure to classify the San Bruno pipeline and others as high risk and properly assess them.

    PG&E Knew it Lacked Pipeline Data Before San Bruno Blast, Emails Show

    [BAY] PG&E Knew it Lacked Pipeline Data Before San Bruno Blast, Emails Show
    Federal prosecutors on Thursday presented several internal emails showing PG&E engineers knew back in 2002 that they lacked critical data for at least 100 miles of gas transmission pipelines. Jaxon Van Derbeken reports.
    (Published Thursday, June 23, 2016)

    The company also did not subject the pipelines to appropriate testing, choosing a cheaper method to save money, prosecutors told jurors.

    "The motive was profits over safety," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Schenk said during his closing argument in the more than monthlong trial.

    PG&E engineers did not think the pipelines posed a safety risk, and the company did not intend to mislead investigators, PG&E attorney Steven Bauer said during the trial.

    The utility inadvertently sent officials a draft policy about its standard for identifying high risk pipes, not one the company was actually following, he said.

    "Nobody at PG&E is a criminal," he said during his closing argument. He accused prosecutors of engaging in an "elaborate second-guessing exercise."

    Investigators have blamed the blast in part on poor PG&E record-keeping that was based on incomplete and inaccurate pipeline information.

    Prosecutor Says PG&E Values Profits Over Safety

    [BAY] Prosecutor Says PG&E Values Profits Over Safety
    Opening statements in the federal pipeline safety case against PG&E on Friday had government lawyers slamming the company as choosing profits over safety before the deadly San Bruno blast in 2010. Jaxon Van Derbeken reports.
    (Published Friday, June 17, 2016)

    NBC Bay Area's Mark Matthews contributed to this report.

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