Safety in the Wake of the 2010 San Bruno Pipeline Explosion

As your San Francisco pipeline accident law firm, we are continuing to follow the response of area companies in the wake of the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion that took place in September of 2010.

A massive explosion occurred in San Bruno’s Crestmoor neighborhood at 6:11 P.M. on September 9, 2010. The explosion, which occurred near Skyline Boulevard and San Bruno Avenue, and resulting fire led to eight deaths and destroyed 38 homes while damaging many others. According to fire officials, it was between sixty and ninety minutes after the explosion before the gas in the area was shut off. Firefighters were not able to extinguish the resulting blaze until after eleven the following morning. PG&E owned the pipeline, a thirty inch steel transmission line, that was involved in the San Bruno disaster. The company reduced operating pressures following the incident by twenty percent in the wake of concerns the pipelines may have been installed improperly. In the aftermath of the incident, the California Public Utilities commission required PG&E re-evaluate the method it uses to determine peak operating pressure throughout 1,800 miles of pipelines. The company failed to meet an initial March 2011 compliance deadline but it unveiled a plan in August 2011 to modern the system and enhance safety. During subsequent strength testing, on November 6, 2011 another explosion occurred in the Woodside area. Luckily no deaths were reported.

This week, executives from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (“PG&E”) defended their plan to have customers finance the area safety program. The current estimate places the price tag at $2.2 billion but PG&E authorities have suggested the price tag could exceed $11 billion when future work is included. The price includes pipeline testing and replacement as well as the installation of a number of automated shutoff valves in the natural gas pipeline system. A judge is currently considering the company’s request to pass eighty-four percent of the costs on to customers. PG&E has defended its plan to pass on the costs because the company suggests the financial outlay is due to regulatory requirements and is not a direct result of the 2010 incident. However, it is notable that investigations after the accident found PG&E lacked strength records for approximately one-third of the company’s urban natural gas pipelines. Government investigations also concluded that the presence of automatic shut-off valves could have limited the damages from the explosion.

It should not take disasters for area companies to make safety a priority. Pipelines supply vital fuel but, as the San Bruno explosion reminds us, they can be the source of great danger. We applaud efforts to increase safety for all our residents. Should a future San Francisco pipeline explosion occur, we are prepared to act as advocates for area residents. Our San Francisco explosion law firm has the experience necessary to help victims recover and to hold companies accountable for their failure to prioritize the safety of our community.

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