NTSB Blames PG&E For Deadly Gas Explosion


One of the nation's largest gas companies Pacific Gas & Electric is to blame for an explosion that killed eight people and burned down a neighborhood in California's Bay Area last year. That's the unanimous finding of the National Transportation Safety Board. The panel says substandard welds and other safety problems date back to the mid-1950s and that regulation was lax.

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Some other news: Poor management at one of the country's biggest utilities. Pacific Gas and Electric led to the huge gas explosion in San Bruno, California last year. That's the conclusion of the National Transportation Safety Board, which yesterday released a report on the blast. It killed eight people, destroyed 38 homes.

Amy Standen has more from member station KQED.

AMY STANDEN: On September 9th, 2010, a high-pressure gas pipeline ruptured under a suburban neighborhood about 10 miles south of San Francisco.

Tammy Zapata was at home, making dinner. Like many residents, she thought an airplane had crashed nearby.

Ms. TAMMY ZAPATA: When I looked up this way - see how all those big trees are like that? No matter how high up you looked, all you saw was fire.

STANDEN: On Tuesday, the NTSB released its final report on a year-long investigation into what went wrong that evening. Investigators placed blame squarely on the utility, which owns the pipeline.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman cited what she called a litany of failures.

Ms. DEBORAH HERSMAN (Chairman, NTSB): Including poor record-keeping, inadequate inspection programs, and integrity management programs without integrity.

STANDEN: PG&E has been unable to produce even basic records about the 30-inch pipe that ruptured, or who made it.

NTSB's Hersman ended her presentation of the report with a call for tighter regulation and a quote from Ronald Reagan.

Ms. HERSMAN: "Trust, but verify. And where trust is not merited, make sure that the penalty is high."

STANDEN: More than a hundred former residents affected by the blast have filed civil lawsuits against PG&E. They're seeking compensation for lives and property lost. The first batch of those cases is expected to make it to court next summer. The company may also face criminal charges.

For NPR News, I'm Amy Standen, in San Francisco.

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