PG&E Knew About San Bruno Gas Leak

As the death toll climbs from the tragic natural gas explosion in San Bruno, news is emerging that residents in the area knew about the leak and reported it to PG&E – as far back as three weeks ago. After a cursory glance around the neighborhood, however, PG&E apparently did nothing to address the leak. Shoshana Walte and Gerry Shih of Bay Citizen have the story:

“They already knew about the leak and they didn’t do anything,” said Alex Monroy, who lives on Claremont Drive, not far from where a broken gas main burst into flames early Thursday evening, scorching everything around it….

Tim Gutierrez, another resident, told CBS 5 that he smelled a gas-like odor for several days before the accident. He said representatives of PG&E searched the neighborhood looking for a leak.

“A little later they took off and that was it,” said Gutierrez.

He said shortly afterwards, he believed that he smelled the same odor emanating from a sewer.

This is a pretty stunning report. If it’s true that PG&E failed to properly investigate and stop the leak, then they’re almost certainly liable for the mayhem that the explosion has caused.

It also would call into question the priorities of PG&E’s leadership, which spent a whopping $46 million in their failed attempt to pass Prop 16, which would have undermined local government efforts to provide renewable energy to their residents. The CPUC has announced an investigation, and part of it should examine whether PG&E has cut back on maintenance and field crews in order to pad their profits and fund their ballot initiative campaign.

PG&E clearly has a lot to answer for in this disaster.

UPDATE: PG&E’s stock is falling fast as investors worry about the company’s liability for this disaster. I’d sell too if I owned any stock.

11 thoughts on “PG&E Knew About San Bruno Gas Leak”

  1. Sewers can smell like rotten eggs just like natural gas is formulated to do.

    And if there’d been a leak for weeks, wouldn’t they notice that they were having difficulty maintaining pressure?

    It would be easy, too, to send a team, to scour for a leak reported only by smell, and not find it. There’s miles of the stuff; it’s not always accessible.

    To me this is a reminder that the infrastructure we rely upon really is indistinguishable from magic to most of us, and that it’s got a lot of dangerous potential. We’re always worried about people strapping bombs to themselves, but a pickaxe or a cordless drill and a lighter is probably just as effective in a city.

    Obviously if PG&E was negligent, they will have to pay. But let’s let them put out the fire before we show up with stakes and pitchforks, eh?

  2. Let’s see recent history

    December 24, 2008

    The Christmas Eve explosion of Rancho Cordova home was found, almost a year later, to have been caused by a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. worker, who accidentally installed the wrong kind of pipe when repairing another gas leak outside in 2006.

    The explosion at 10708 Paiute Way in Rancho Cordova killed Wilbert Paana, 72,and severely burned his 44-year-old daughter, Kimberly Dickson, and 17-year-old granddaughter Sunny Dickson.

    PG&E acknowledged the mistake in December 2009, the same day the National Transportation Safety Board released the findings of its investigation into the blast.

    The worker at fault used a piece of “packing” pipe in the repair — a thinner-walled pipe the manufacturer uses as packing material when shipping usable pipe, said Brian Swanson, a PG&E spokesman.

    Read more:

  3. Between the time this diary was posted and the end of the day, PG&E stock fell another $1.29 a share.

  4. A Google Earth image of PG&Es ground zero before the explosion shows what appears to be an aspalt patch in the pavement and a white painted oval outlining the exact location of the crater that was later created by the blast.

    The photo, which I posted at CNNs iReport can be seen here.

  5. The Chron reports that 2,000 fires a year in this country are caused by natural gas. Some of these are probably not the fault of utility companies. But, overall, the basic infrastructure investment in this country has been lagging well behind needs for public safety. And that doesn’t even address what we need to remain a modern country and to be globally competitive.

    Consider this, Indian high-tech campuses have their own electrical systems. That was the only way they could attract helpdesk business years ago. Otherwise they couldn’t guarantee service and nobody would use them because the Indian electrical grid is famously unreliable. If we don’t start investing to maintain and modernize infrastructure, we will soon start to have similar problems.

    So the next time somebody tells you that taxes and government spending are too high. That industry can police itself. And that the free market will provide. Remember the people who died in San Bruno, or in the bridge collapse in Minnesota, or the levee failures in New Orleans, or… But you get the idea.

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