A San Francisco jury has found Pacific Gas & Electric guilty of five felony counts of violating pipeline safety standards and one count of obstruction an investigation for its role in the fatal San Bruno gas explosion that killed eight and injured 58 others.
The fatal explosion occurred on September 9, 2010 with a loud blast that shook the small city of San Bruno. In addition to the tragic loss of life and injuries, the explosion destroyed 38 homes and resulted in millions of dollars in damage.
Despite the multiple felony conviction, the utility only faces about $3 million in federal fines, far less than the $1.6 billion fined against PG&E by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2015. The fine is even dwarfed by the $38 million dollar fine PG&E received over the 2008 Rancho Cordova gas explosion.
In addition to the fines, PG&E has also paid roughly $500 million to settle a number of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed after the blast.
Gas explosions result from a volatile mixture of flammable gases with common elements like oxygen and carbon dioxide. Once the gas-to-air ratio reaches a critical point between the Low and High Explosion Limits, any flame, spark, or other sufficient heat source can result in a blast.
Upon ignition, the gas begins to expand rapidly, building pressure until a portion of whatever is containing the pressure and gas gives. The result of the following sudden release of pressure is a violent explosion.
Common causes of gas explosions include: