Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric was charged Tuesday with federal felony counts related to a deadly gas explosion in San Bruno, Calif., in 2010.
According to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office, a federal grand jury in San Francisco found that PG&E; committed "multiple violations" of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 and failed to identity problems with other pipelines in its system.
PG&E; faces 12 criminal charges. It faces fines of up to $500,000 for each charge, officials said.
“The indictment returned by the grand jury is an important step in holding PG&E; criminally responsible for their willful misconduct,” said San Mateo County Dist. Atty. Stephen M. Wagstaffe in a statement.
Officials said the charges stem from "PG&E;’s record-keeping and pipeline integrity management practices. "The indictment alleges that PG&E; failed to address record-keeping deficiencies concerning its larger natural gas pipelines knowing that their records were inaccurate or incomplete."
After the charges were announced, PG&E; put out a statement calling the blast "a tragic accident."
"We've taken accountability and are deeply sorry. We have worked hard to do the right thing for victims, their families and the community, and we will continue to do so. We want all of our customers and their families to know that nothing will distract us from our mission of transforming this 100-plus-year-old system into the safest and most reliable natural gas system in the country.”
Last year, PG&E; announced it would pay out $565 million in legal settlements and other claims stemming from the 2010 natural gas explosion that killed eight people and devastated a neighborhood.
The blast in September 2010 also injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes when a 54-year-old pipeline exploded under the San Francisco suburb.
The $565 million includes $455 million that the utility had already pledged and $110 million in recent settlements and claims.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that maintenance work at a pipeline control center triggered electrical problems and a rise in gas pressure before the blast.
The agency issued a scathing report blaming PG&E; for "baffling" mistakes, a "litany of failures” and lax oversight, saying it took the gas company nearly 95 minutes to shut off the gas spewing from the broken pipeline.
The report by the commission's Safety and Enforcement Division said its investigators found more than 100 violations by the company, some dating back decades.