Leading up to the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight people, injured dozens more, and destroyed 38 homes, Pacific Gas & Electric kept a list of priorities. The very literal list, which the Chronicle reports was revealed yesterday in federal court during the ongoing criminal trial over the explosion, paints a picture of a company putting profits above all else — most definitely including safety.
In a 2008 document listing “Corporate Business Priorities,” the number one item was "EPS" — an acronym for "earnings per share." The fifth and last item on the list? That would be safety.
A federal investigation, resulting in 12 federal charges, suggests that PG&E reduced safety-related expenditures as a way to increase profits — possibly violating federal safety standards in the process. The company is also accused of attempting to conceal its policy of maintaining pipeline pressure at 10 percent above the federal limit.
"Safety comes first," the Chronicle reports PG&E defense lawyer Steven Bauer as noting of the company's claimed priorities. "Compliance comes first. These folks live in the communities where the pipelines are.”
But that's actually not where safety fell on the literal list of priorities.
In fact, company emails show that a discussion regarding reducing the budget for inspecting pipelines happened in the year leading up to the blast. “We can probably knock the leak investigation budget down,” replied a gas engineer when asked what, if any, projects could be reduced.
If found guilty, the Mercury News reports that PG&E could be fined up to $562 million. The paper further reports that 44 current or former employees have received immunity in order to testify against the company. Included in that list is Peter Darbee, PG&E's CEO from 2005 through 2011.
"The immunity agreements suggest some of this evidence will be quite incriminating," Senator Jerry Hill, whose district includes San Bruno, predicted to the Mercury News back in April. And this priority list has proved him right.