PG&E Pays the Penalty for Poor Record Keeping - Again

By Bud Porter-Roth posted 06-21-2011 18:10


In a new twist to the PG&E record keeping story, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today that, “Pacific Gas and Electric Co. was told by a record-keeping manager nearly two decades ago that the company was losing track of documentation for its gas-transmission system and was courting public embarrassment, newly released internal memos show.” (Italics and bold are my addition)

Larry Medina was the records manager for PG&E and wrote warning memos in 1992/3. “Medina warned unidentified PG&E executives about the "ripple effects" of a company reorganization under way at the time. As part of that reorganization, PG&E abolished a unit that tracked pipeline records in favor of a project in which data, some dating from the 1930s, were being stored on computers.  The March 1993 memo said some critical records had already been lost.”

Medina’s memos and suggestions were not acknowledged by PG&E and at a later date his position was eliminated.

This only came to light when Medina approached PG&E with an offer to help during this crisis but apparently PG&E was not interested. Medina turned to California State Congresswomen Jackie Speier with the same offer and Speier gave the memos to state regulators.

In a related story appearing in the same issue of the Chronicle, PG&E is being fined $26 million for a similar gas pipe explosion that occurred in 2008: “In both cases, investigators said flawed PG&E record-keeping and use of substandard pipe played a role. “ (emphasis is mine)

While we do not have PG&Es side of the record keeping story, it has been apparent that PG&E cannot find records relating to the pipeline that was installed in San Bruno (California) that caused the explosion in 2010. As a result of not having the records for approximately 500 miles of pipeline, PG&E will be required to test or replace that pipeline.

It is apparent, in earlier Chronicle stories, that PG&E believes that they have adequate records and documentation that is spread across different databases that will properly characterize the integrity of the pipelines without extensive testing. However, the California State PUC does not agree with this and has continued to require the testing be performed, which PG&E has started. Even if PG&E is correct in that they have good records keeping procedures, they have basically lost control of this issue and will be behind the eight ball for the foreseeable future.

Whatever the cause of the records keeping “problem” and whether it is a problem or not (according to PG&E), the “problem” has now exposed PG&E to unending bad publicity, has virtually caused PG&E to expose its policies and procedures for public scrutiny, and I would expect that other “problems” will surface when the court cases start. I don’t even have a guess as to what this will cost PG&E when all is said and done.

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Bud Porter-Roth

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