SAN FRANCISCO – Pacific Gas & Electric Co. expects to be hit with a new federal indictment next month over a deadly pipeline explosion that levelled a suburban California neighbourhood in 2010, a regulatory filing says.
The superseding indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office would nullify a previous indictment issued in April and could include new or altered charges.
The filing by the utility on Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission did not indicate what changes are expected.
Prosecutors informed PG&E of their plan in a status conference held Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
In April, PG&E was charged with 12 felony violations of federal safety laws. It could be fined $6 million and ordered to submit to court oversight. The utility has pleaded not guilty.
One possibility is that the coming indictment could name individuals. Thus far, no employees or executives have been charged in the San Bruno disaster.
The April indictment alleged that the utility repeatedly and knowingly violated provisions of the federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act, which requires operators to maintain accurate records about gas pipes, identify risks to lines and inspect or test when pipe pressures exceed the legal maximum.
Investigators found that PG&E had inaccurate records on its more than 6,000 miles of gas transmission lines, and that as a result hadn’t tested for the defective seam weld that ruptured a pipeline and ignited a fireball.
Company spokeswoman Debbie Felix said in a statement Wednesday that “the government’s case fundamentally doesn’t have merit.”
The explosion — which destroyed 38 homes, killed eight people and injured dozens —was a tragic accident, she said, adding that PG&E is “deeply sorry.”
But, she added, “based on all of the evidence we have seen to date, we do not believe that PG&E employees intentionally violated the federal Pipeline Safety Act, and that, even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy.”
A message seeking comment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office wasn’t immediately returned.
PG&E said in May that it has committed $2.7 billion over the next several years for safety-related work following the incident.
Its profits were weighed down in its most recent quarter by $40 million in legal and safety improvement costs tied to its natural gas business.