A utility watchdog group is digging up what it says is proof that Pacific Gas and Electric is knowingly operating an unsafe network of dangerous pipelines.
The Utility Reform Network this week released papers that show PG&E asked state regulators in 2007 for permission to raise rates to pay for work on the line that runs from Milpitas to San Francisco. The company wanted $5 million to repair a mile-long section of the line that ruptured Sept. 9 in San Bruno.
PG&E collected the cash and scheduled the work for 2009 but but delayed the plan, even though the utility company's documents say the risk of failure at the location was unacceptably high.
The San Bruno explosion isn't the first PG&E equipment failure that killed and injured people and attorney Mike Danko says it won't be the last.
Danko, who has been litigating against PG&E for years, says the devastation should not be so widespread. In 1992, the National Transportation Safety Board told PG&E it should install automatic shutoff valves on gas pipelines -- but the valves are still manual.
"The problem is a decrepit infrastructure with a run-to-fail mentality," Danko says.
Danko represented Lisa Nash after a PG&E underground vault blew up in San Francisco in 2005, leaving her severely burned. Danko also worked on a case in Santa Rosa that is eerily similar to San Bruno, in which, "Two people were killed three people burned as a result of a leak from underground gas line," Danko said.
After investigating that explosion, the NTSB issued safety recommendations in 1992, urging PG&E to install automatic shutoff valves on its gas lines. Fast-forward 18 years and the valves on the transmission line that blew last week in San Bruno are manual.
"As we do upgrades, we do look at valves," PG&E's Matt Nauman said, "right now looking at each situation to see if auto or manual is appropriate one."
PG&E said it planned repair that part of the line in 2013. But, Danko says, that answer fits a deadly pattern.
"History has shown us that PG&E does not clean up it's act," Danko said,
Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein plan to introduce legislation aiming to improve pipeline safety so the scene in San Bruno doesn't repeat itself.