PG&E Trying Very Hard Not to Kill Everybody

PG&E’s safety codes and corporate responsibility seem questionable at best.

Pacific Gas & Electric, the same people people who brought you Hinkley groundwater contamination (the one with cancer, not the one with Julia Roberts) would like you to know that they feel just terrible about all of the recent explosions. And also some of the older ones, like the one that mutilated nine Bernal Heights firefighters in 1963. And definitely the San Bruno blast that killed eight people last year. But darned if those ancient, cracked pipes just won’t stop shattering unexpectedly and turning leafy neighborhoods into nightmarish, flame-ravaged hellscapes when you put off fixing them for five or eight decades!

Chris Johns, the president of PG&E, explained that the company was “deeply sorry” to have caused the explosion, in a tone that came off roughly as apologetic as Reed Hasting’s latest blog post about changing Netflix DVD delivery. Look, PG&E would like to fix the hundreds of rusty, improperly welded pipes crisscrossing the Bay Area left over from the Truman administration. In an ideal world, would a substantially smaller number of their products and services kill people? Of course. Would they set fewer homes on fire? Sure, why the hell not. But we don’t live in that magical fantasy land with “safety codes” and “corporate responsibility” and “PG&E not making your house blow up.”

Do you have any idea how many memos that PG&E employees have sent each other over the last 20 years? At least 250,000, according to the 250,000 memos they were forced to recently submit to the California Public Utilities Commission. Well, give or take a few internal messages. Specifically the ones concerning historical, metallurgical practices and upkeep, or “why our pipes keep setting everybody on fire.” What do you expect from them? To keep records of all of these memos in some sort of, I don’t know, centralized mainframe data center? A series of computers? When they’re already running themselves ragged trying to put out all the fires?

But they really are working on making things better. They bought three solar power plants! And what is the sun if not a big, friendly, helpful series of explosions? So stop worrying. And just ignore that odd, faint hissing noise and vague metallic smell. It’s probably nothing.


Mallory Ortberg

Mallory resides in San Francisco, California. You can catch her weekly Sex By Numbers column.