PG&E cleared of blame in fatal Fresno County accident

By George Avaolos

PG&E has been cleared of fault in a fatal April 2015 natural gas explosion, a state agency said Monday as part of an official report about the accident in a Fresno County farming community.

The gas blast killed one and injured 13 after a Fresno County employee operating a loader punctured a gas pipeline. The accident prompted an investigation by the state Public Utilities Commission, including scrutiny of whether PG&E covered the pipe with sufficient soil when the line was buried.

“There is no evidence to suggest that PG&E failed to meet the minimum depth of cover requirement applicable during installation” of the gas pipeline, the PUC’s Safety Enforcement Division stated in its report.

Still, it’s possible PG&E’s installation of the pipe may have had a bearing on the accident.

“The depth of cover over the pipe at the incident location at the time of the incident was likely a contributing factor,” the PUC safety group reported.

PG&E’s gas pipeline system has been under intense scrutiny since a September 2010 explosion that killed eight people and leveled a quiet San Bruno neighborhood.

Federal investigators have determined that a combination of PG&E’s shoddy record-keeping, flawed maintenance and the PUC’s lazy oversight and cozy ties to PG&E contributed to the San Bruno disaster.

On Monday, the PUC issued an annual report that claimed the agency has undertaken an array of reforms, including a new code of conduct for PUC commissioners.

In the Fresno incident, the PUC did determine that the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office contributed to the accident by failing to properly issue an alert about underground utility services in the area where the dirt moving was underway. The pipe was buried about 44 to 46 inches below the surface.

“First and foremost, our thoughts continue to be with the individuals who were impacted by this incident,” PG&E spokesman Donald Cutler said. “The report speaks for itself. We want all of our customers to know that calling 811 before you dig is absolutely critical. This free service will locate and mark all underground utilities in your proposed excavation site.”

Information from www.mercurynews.com

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