SAN FRANCISCO – Attorneys for the government and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will begin presenting their cases to jurors in a criminal trial alleging the utility giant obstructed investigators after a deadly pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area.
After several days of jury selection, opening statements are scheduled to start Friday in federal court in San Francisco.
A PG&E natural gas pipeline exploded in the city of San Bruno six years ago, sending a giant plume of fire into the air. The blast killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. During the investigation that followed, prosecutors say the San Francisco-based utility misled federal officials about how it was identifying high-risk pipelines.
The standard the company used violated safety regulations and led to a failure to classify the San Bruno pipeline and other similar pipelines as high risk and properly assess them, prosecutors said in a 2014 indictment. The company also faces charges that it violated pipeline safety laws.
PG&E has pleaded not guilty and said its employees did not intentionally violate pipeline safety laws or obstruct an investigation. The company faces a $562 million fine if convicted.
“Regardless of the next legal steps, we want our customers to know we are focused on the future and on re-earning their trust by leading in safety, reliability, affordability and clean energy,” the company said in a statement. “We’ve made unprecedented progress and we’re committed to maintaining this focus.”
Investigators have blamed the September 2010 blast in part on poor PG&E record-keeping that was based on incomplete and inaccurate pipeline information. California regulators fined the company $1.6 billion for the blast last year.