A federal judge has ordered California’s largest utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), to spend about $3 million on television and newspaper advertisements to inform the public it had been found guilty of violating natural gas pipeline safety regulations, which led to a catastrophic subterranean pipeline explosion in San Bruno.
The penalty is part of a larger criminal sentencing that has sparked some controversy among critics. In addition to the “public shaming ads” and a maximum $3-million penalty, PG&E executives must also perform 2,000 hours of community service and the company as a whole must perform an additional 8,000 hours of community service.
In August, a federal jury convicted PG&E of five felony counts for its failure to inspect and test high-risk gaining pipelines for safety defects and one count of obstructing the federal government’s investigation of the blast. No PG&E employees were held responsible for the disaster.
The explosion occurred on Sept. 9, 2010, when an old 30-inch natural gas pipeline ruptured underneath a suburban neighborhood in San Bruno, about 15 miles south of San Francisco. The blast registered 1.1 on the Richter scale and erupted into flames that stretched several hundred feet upward. The explosion and the resulting fire killed eight people, injured 58, some severely, leveled 38 homes, and damaged several others.
According to Bloomberg, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson also ordered PG&E to “publicize the convictions, penalties and its steps to cure the issues through advertisements in The Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle and on television.”
The television ads amount to about 12,500 60-second television spots.
Prosecutors had also asked the judge to restructure PG&E’s employee bonus program to reward safety instead of sales and budgets, but that demand did not become part of the sentence.