In July 2009 — more than a year before the San Bruno explosion — we warned about the dangers to the public posed by PG&E’s aging underground infrastructure. Back then, we were focusing on the utility vaults hidden beneath the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco and other urban areas. They have a long history of exploding without warning. We called them "timebombs beneath the streets" because, frankly, that’s what they are.
When the newscast aired, PG&E pledged it was doing all it could to fix the problem of its aging infrastructure. We didn’t believe them.
And then the San Bruno fire happened.
Now, almost two years after the newscast first aired, Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News has begun to investigate the hazards posed by PG&E’s underground vaults. Perhaps the most astounding part of his front page article is that PG&E appears to have no idea of exactly how many of its underground vaults have exploded over the past few years.
While this newspaper counted 78 Bay Area underground mishaps since 2005 PG&E said before Wednesday’s incident that it knew of just 35 throughout its entire service territory, which covers 70,000 square miles from Eureka to Bakersfield. The California Public Utilities Commission — which only tracks the worst accidents — said it is aware of 11 PG&E incidents during that period, six for Southern California Edison and none for San Diego Gas & Electric.
That doesn’t exactly instill us with confidence that PG&E — or the CPUC for the matter — is on top of the situation. Who, then, is protecting public safety?