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Originally published Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 4:04 PM

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Report: No fines on PG&E over six-year period

A review of public records shows the watchdog agency responsible for regulating public utilities has taken a mostly hands-off approach to violations by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

The Associated Press


A review of public records shows the watchdog agency responsible for regulating public utilities has taken a mostly hands-off approach to violations by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Even though PG&E had more pipeline infractions than the rest of the state's major pipelines combined over a six-year period, The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the California Public Utilities Commission did not levy a single fine on the utility during that period.

The newspaper reports in an article in its Sunday edition that its review of CPUC records between 2004 and 2009, PG&E accounted for 410 of the probable violations of federal safety laws found by regulators.

By comparison, all other utilities accounted for 287 of the probable violations.

PG&E operates 42 percent of the gas pipelines in the state.

The report comes after word that the CPUC is forming a panel to conduct a review of the PG&E pipeline blast in San Bruno last month that killed eight people.

Richard Clark, head of the Consumer Projection and Safety Division of the CPUC, told the newspaper that the industry has a history of fixing problems voluntarily.

"We operate under the assumption they are interested in having a safely operated system," Clark told the Chronicle. "If we saw a trend that gave us concerns in terms of what we are finding out there, we would take enforcement action," he said.

It's been least seven years since the CPUC fined PG&E or any other utility operating a gas pipeline in the state, according to Clark.

According to the Chronicle, self-policing is almost a necessity because the commission has just nine inspectors to monitor 100,000 miles of gas pipelines running through California.

Kirk Johnson, vice president of gas transmission and distribution for PG&E, said the utility often reports safety problems to the commission on its own.

"We don't see problems that warrant the level of enforcement actions," Clark said. "We don't see it. This is an anomalous event that took place in San Bruno," he added.


Instead of fining pipeline operators over violations, the CPUC sends them a letter asking the companies to comply with federal safety regulations.

"We find a violation, we tell them to fix it," Clark said. "Unless its a real egregious violation," he added.

Clark could not recall any such violation.

In a response to the article, PG&E spokesman Andrew Souvall told the Associated Press the "safety of the our natural gas system is our top priority."

"We are very conservative deciding what are reportable incidents," Souvall said. "In fact we often self- report things we have already fixed," he told the AP.

Souvall added that it would be a "mistake" to suggest that a lack of fines levied on the utility comes as a result of a lack of oversight, noting the natural gas industry is closely regulated by state and federal agencies.

A call left for the CPUC seeking comment on Sunday was not immediately returned.

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