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PG&E could face hefty fines for safety violations

Associated Press Modified: May 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm •  Published: May 25, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — State regulators said Friday Pacific Gas & Electric Co. put the public at risk over the last three decades by allowing some of its pipelines to run at dangerously high pressures in cities throughout Northern and Central California.

A staff report issued by the California Public Utilities Commission said the company wrongly classified hundreds of miles of natural gas transmission lines, the same type that blew up in the deadly explosion in San Bruno.

That means PG&E broke state pipeline safety rules thousands of times in recent decades, because federal law requires utilities to perform more stringent inspections on lines in densely populated areas to ensure they are properly pressurized, the analysis said.

The findings by the California Public Utilities Commission staff were part of an investigation into whether the classification problems violated state and federal laws and contributed to the pipeline rupture.

PG&E already faces millions in fines in the wake of the Sept. 9, 2010, blast, which sparked a gas-fueled inferno that killed eight people and destroyed three dozen homes in the suburban enclave.

But the 3,062 violations identified in the report, which staff said resulted in about 16 million daily violations over time, could result in much higher penalties. The commission did not immediately provide a potential range for the fines.

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