Imagine if this was your company and as part of the court’s judgement against you, you were ordered to take out ads to proclaim your guilt. That is exactly what just happened in the judge’s verdict on the San Bruno explosion, the 2010 natural gas pipeline blast that killed eight people.
PG&E was ordered take out TV and newspaper advertisements announcing that the company was found guilty of violating safety standards. Full page ads must be placed in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Wall Street Journal explaining its offenses and what it’s doing to prevent future wrongdoing. In addition, it will spend almost $3 million to advertise on TV, which the company said amounts to about 12,500 60-second spots. This is like asking the company to walk around town with a sandwich board on its back proclaiming its guilt.
In addition, the judge directed “high-level personnel” to do 2,000 hours of monitored community service and sentenced the company to a maximum-allowed fine of $3 million, nothing that the crimes were “very serious and pose great risk to the public safety.” In addition to the community service requirement for high-level employees, the company must perform another 8,000 hours of service.
To refresh your memory, San Bruno is a small city about 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) south of San Francisco. A 30-inch wide PG&E pipeline that was at least 54 years old and located under a street intersection in a residential area blew up, sending a 28-foot, 3,000-pound section of the pipe skyward and leaving a crater the size of a house. The blast destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others. Sixty-six people were injured.
The company has been charged with 12 federal felony counts involving safety violations in a Federal Court in April 2014.