PG&E Won’t Face Local Criminal Charges Over San Bruno Blast, Federal Case Still Possible

Local prosecutors have decided not to pursue criminal charges against PG&E for the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, though the U.S. Attorney’s Office has another two years to file a criminal case, an assistant district attorney said today.

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General on Monday let a three-year deadline expire before filing any criminal charges against PG&E in connection with the Sept. 9, 2010, blast, which caused the deaths of eight people, injured more than 60 others and destroyed 38 Crestmoor Canyon homes.

However, Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato said that local prosecutors were continuing to partner with their federal counterparts in an ongoing criminal investigation, and that PG&E could still be charged.

“Given the scope and complexity of a case like this, it’s not uncommon for the federal prosecutors to take the lead,” Serrato said. “We’ve essentially deferred to them.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has five years from the date of the explosion to file a criminal case, he said.

Following a yearlong investigation into the deadly explosion, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that PG&E failed to detect a faulty weld in the 30-inch natural gas transmission line from the time it was installed in San Bruno in 1956, to the day it exploded in 2010.

The NTSB called PG&E’s pipeline safety management program “deficient and ineffective,” and said that its emergency response procedures following the explosion and gas-fed fire were “flawed.”

On Monday, the utility announced it had settled a total 499 confidential claims associated with the explosion, paying out more than $565 million, PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said.

The California Public Utilities Commission is currently considering a financial penalty against PG&E, which could exceed $2 billion.

Since the San Bruno explosion, PG&E has pledged to overhaul its pipeline safety inspection program throughout its service area, compensate those affected by the disaster and cooperate with any criminal investigation.

“We’ll continue to cooperate with the investigation at the federal level,” Chord said.

Chris Cooney, Bay City News

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