California regulator opens case against PG&E for falsifying pipeline safety records

PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

(Reuters) - The California Public Utilities Commission has opened a proceeding to consider penalties against Pacific Gas and Electric Company, ordering immediate action against the utility for falsifying safety documents for natural gas pipelines, the regulator said in a statement on Friday.

The state regulator of utilities found PG&E lacked sufficient staffing to locate and mark natural gas pipelines in compliance with law, leading staff to falsify data from 2012 to 2017.

"Utility falsification of safety related records is a serious violation of law and diminishes our trust in the utility's reports on their progress," commission President Michael Picker said in a statement. "These findings are another example of why we are investigating PG&E's safety culture."

"We're committed to accurate and thorough reporting and record-keeping, and we didn't live up to that commitment in this case," PG&E said in response to a Reuters request for comment.

PG&E said it continues to take additional actions to meet the regulatory standards.

"We are aware of and cooperating with the CPUC's investigation," PG&E said.

The move by the California Public Utilities Commission comes as it investigates the cause of the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, in the state's deadliest-ever wildfire.

The recommendations, which were made following an investigation on the utility after the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, include development of a comprehensive safety strategy, resource requirements and budgets.

(Reporting by Rishika Chatterjee in Bengaluru, Additional reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft)