SAN CARLOS -- In a strongly worded rebuke of PG&E and its senior management, a top official with the state Public Utilities Commission on Monday recommended that the utility be fined more than $17 million for failing to promptly and properly notify regulators about flawed records related to a natural gas pipeline beneath San Carlos.
The huge fine proposed by PUC Commissioner Mark Ferron is the latest development in a widening controversy over PG&E's efforts to improve record keeping and upgrade its gas pipeline in the wake of the fatal San Bruno explosion three years ago. Faulty record keeping was found to be a contributing factor to the San Bruno blast.
In the San Carlos case, which involves flawed records regarding a four-mile section of pipeline called Line 147, a PG&E engineer raised questions about the safety of the pipe and the maximum gas pressure for the pipe.
"It is clear that the serious records and pipeline flaws were known by the senior management of PG&E," Commissioner Ferron wrote in his recommendation for $17.25 million fine. "PG&E management must have recognized this as a significant safety matter in the public interest. We simply cannot tolerate such deliberate and calculated dishonesty."
A PUC probe found that San Francisco-based PG&E's senior management waited several months to correct the records on Line 147 and to notify the PUC about the flawed records.
Ferron is one of five PUC commissioners who will make a final decision on the proposed fine, which is expected in December. Other commissioners may also issue recommendations on the size of the penalty.
"The problems with Line 147 are all part of the same pattern as San Bruno, in that PG&E has very poor records for its pipelines," said Thomas Long, legal director with The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group. "The sharpness in the language (of Ferron's recommendation) is entirely appropriate."
The PUC also is debating the sizes of fines it will impose to punish PG&E for its flawed record keeping and blunders that led to the San Bruno explosion. Those penalties could well run into the billions of dollars.
"Our goal is to be transparent and forthright at all times," PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said. "We are disappointed that our efforts in this instance fell short in the eyes of the commission. We are committed to doing more to assure we achieve this objective in the future."
Contact George Avalos at 408-859-5167. twitter.com/georgeavalos