The California Public Utilities Commission opened a formal investigation into Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Thursday, alleging that the utility may have violated safety standards and falsified gas records.
The investigation, announced Friday, stemmed from an internal report that allegedly found that PG&E repeatedly failed to mark its gas lines on time but claimed they did between 2012 and 2017, according to a press release.
The commission also noted that the alleged violation period came just two years after the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas explosion, which killed eight people, injured 58 and destroyed 38 homes.
If found in violation, the commission may consider imposing daily fines on the utility. PG&E was given a $1.6 billion penalty following the San Bruno blast. The commission hit PG&E with $5 million in fines in October for two major gas leaks in Northern California in 2016 and 2017.
State law requires that utilities must mark underground gas infrastructure before excavators begin digging. The commission report claimed PG&E lacked staff to complete locator work, and management allegedly pressured staff to file late tickets as completed on time. PG&E might have undercounted tens of thousands of late tickets over those five years, officials said.
“Utility falsification of safety related records is a serious violation of law and diminishes our trust in the utility’s reports on their progress,” Commission President Michael Picker said in a statement Friday. “These findings are another example of why we are investigating PG&E’s safety culture.”
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, a frequent PG&E critic, said the allegations detailed by the utilities commission Friday echo concerns he heard from contractors three years ago after a fatal accident involving the utility’s gas equipment in the Bakersfield area.
Hill, whose district includes San Bruno, said lawmakers should now seriously consider requiring more oversight of the utility’s digging and marking operations. He’s lost all confidence in PG&E’s ability to “do the job correctly,” he said.
“The sad part is that we’ve not had a period where you can look toward PG&E and say they’ve done a good job or they can be trusted,” Hill said. “There hasn’t been a period since San Bruno where we can say that, because there is always that next thing that happens.”
PG&E said that it is cooperating with the commission on the investigation.
“At PG&E, our most important responsibility is public and employee safety. We’re committed to accurate and thorough reporting and record-keeping, and we didn’t live up to that commitment in this case,” said Matt Nauman, a PG&E spokesman.
Nauman said the utility has taken actions to meet state standards.
Commission officials said that failing to mark natural gas lines on time could lead to damaged natural gas pipes and valves if contractors start excavating without knowing if there are pipes in the area.
Chronicle staff writer J.D. Morris contributed to this report.