Opening statements set to begin in pipeline blast trial

Sudhin Thanawala, Associated Press

Attorneys for the government and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will begin presenting their cases to jurors in a criminal trial alleging the utility giant obstructed investigators after a deadly pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In this Sept. 11, 2010, file photo, a natural gas line lies broken on a San Bruno, Calif., road after a massive explosion. One of the country's largest utility companies is set to face a jury in a criminal trial accusing it of misleading investigators in the wake of a deadly pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area. The September 2010 blast of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. natural gas pipeline sent a giant plume of fire into the air in a neighborhood in San Bruno, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. Opening arguments in the trial began Thursday, June 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Attorneys for the government and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will begin presenting their cases to jurors in a criminal trial alleging the utility giant obstructed investigators after a deadly pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area.

After several days of jury selection, opening statements are scheduled to start Friday in federal court in San Francisco.

A PG&E natural gas pipeline exploded in the city of San Bruno six years ago, sending a giant plume of fire into the air. The blast killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. During the investigation that followed, prosecutors say the San Francisco-based utility misled federal officials about how it was identifying high-risk pipelines.

The standard the company used violated safety regulations and led to a failure to classify the San Bruno pipeline and other similar pipelines as high risk and properly assess them, prosecutors said in a 2014 indictment. The company also faces charges that it violated pipeline safety laws.

PG&E has pleaded not guilty and said its employees did not intentionally violate pipeline safety laws or obstruct an investigation. The company faces a $562 million fine if convicted.

"Regardless of the next legal steps, we want our customers to know we are focused on the future and on re-earning their trust by leading in safety, reliability, affordability and clean energy," the company said in a statement. "We've made unprecedented progress and we're committed to maintaining this focus."

Investigators have blamed the September 2010 blast in part on poor PG&E record-keeping that was based on incomplete and inaccurate pipeline information. California regulators fined the company $1.6 billion for the blast last year.

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