The National Transportation Safety Board released an accident report that blames Pacific Gas and Electric for the San Bruno fire that resulted in death, injury and destruction last September.
“Our investigation revealed that for years, PG and E exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “We also identified regulators that placed a blind trust in the companies that they were charged with overseeing to the detriment of public safety.”
Eight individuals were killed, 38 homes were destroyed, and 70 homes were damaged as a result of a rupture in a gas pipe that had been poorly welded and which P G and E had no documentation of.
“This tragedy began years ago with P G and E’s 1956 installation of a woefully inadequate pipe,” said Hersman. “It was compounded by a litany of failures – including poor recordkeeping, inadequate inspection programs, and an integrity management program without integrity.”
Not only was there a lax protocol for the pipes that P G and E had installed, but there was also an excessive delay before P G and E shut off the gas due to an inefficient emergency response system, according to a report by NTSB . “PG and E took 95 minutes to stop the flow of gas and to isolate the rupture site – a response time that was excessively long and contributed to the extent and severity of property damage and increased the life-threatening risks to the residents and emergency responders,” the press release said.
The NTSB placed some of the blame on California Public Utilities Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for adopting a policy in 1970 which exempted older pipelines from safety inspection. Such an inspection would have uncovered the faulty pipe that caused the San Bruno blast.
San Bruno was not the only incidence of PG and E’s deficiency, which led the NTSB to deem PG and E as having a recurring problem. According to the press release the NTSB sent out 10 reports to PG and E, PHMSA and CPUC to address issues in record-keeping, information sharing, pipeline testing, and emergency preparedness and notification procedures.
According to San Bruno mayor Jim Ruane, the only thing that can be done about the accident is to prevent such tragedies from happening again. “Unfortunately we can’t undo what happened, but we can certainly try to prevent things like this from happening in the future,” said San Bruno mayor Jim Ruane. “It’s not only P G and E-they were responsible for this particular one, but this whole incidence has a lot to do with regulations going forward.”
Ruane said the rebuilding process is difficult and there is still work to be done, though the emotional impact of the blast lingers. “We’ve met with the neighbors and have to rebuild the neighborhood. We have a lot of physical work to do, but the emotional rebuild for some people will never happen. It’s a very very difficult process. Especially since we’re living one year ago.”
Still Ruane assures residents are strong and will overcome the tragedy. “We’ll get through it. We’re very resilient.”