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California Regulators May Fine PG&E for Gas Pipeline Blast

The California Public Utilities Commission will consider if PG&E Corp. should face fines as the regulator investigates what caused an explosion at one of the company’s natural gas pipelines near San Francisco last year.

The commission will determine whether PG&E broke record-keeping laws for its transmission pipeline system, Commissioner Mike Florio said today at a press briefing. The action was spurred by safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board after investigators found PG&E’s records incorrectly identified the ruptured pipe as seamless while it had seams and welds, Florio said.

PG&E could face state fines of $20,000 per violation per day, Florio said. “The NTSB’s reports have presented us with sufficient information and good cause to commence a penalty consideration,” he said.

PG&E has been reviewing its pipeline records and expects to turn in the initial results to the commission on March 15, Joe Molica, a company spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

The federal board said last month that problems with records could create conditions in which a pipeline is operated at a higher pressure than it was built to withstand. California regulators ordered PG&E to reduce pressure on some of its lines as a result of the finding.

The federal safety board has yet to determine what caused the Sept. 9 blast that killed eight people and destroyed 37 homes in San Bruno, California. The board will hold public hearings March 1 to March 3 in Washington on the incident and may complete its investigation by September, Chairman Deborah Hersman said today.

Separately, the commission voted today to set new pipeline safety rules including possible requirements for installation of automatic shut-off valves and upgrades that allow for interior pipe inspections.

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