PUCO fines Duke Energy $500,000 following investigation of Lebanon apartment explosion
COLUMBUS, OHIO (Jan. 18, 2012) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) today approved an agreement that requires Duke Energy Ohio to pay a fine of $500,000 and to take steps to improve compliance with natural gas pipeline safety standards. The penalties are based upon the PUCO staff’s investigation of a November 2010 apartment explosion in Lebanon, Ohio that injured seven and caused an estimated $1 million in property damage.
“The fine assessed today reflects the magnitude of the 2010 explosion in Lebanon and demonstrates that natural gas pipeline safety is a responsibility we take seriously,” Chairman Todd A. Snitchler stated. “Going forward, we expect that Duke will continue to fulfill the commitments outlined in the agreement and work to reduce the likelihood that this type of incident occurs in the future.”
In its investigation, the PUCO staff reported that Duke’s contractor, Scope Services, Inc., failed to properly reestablish natural gas service to an apartment in the Steeple Chase Townhomes on Nov. 2, 2010. The source of the explosion and subsequent fire was an uncapped half-inch supply pipe in the apartment laundry room. The Scope Services employee failed to follow procedures for reestablishment of gas service and failed to investigate when a resident of the apartment reported the smell of gas. Hours later, when the apartment resident attempted to light a cigarette, the structure exploded.
PUCO staff concluded that the apartment explosion and subsequent fire resulted from Duke’s failure to maintain proper procedures, including the requirement to perform a pressure test on a houseline prior to reestablishing service when gas service had been shut off for thirty days or more. Duke also failed to provide adequate oversight of contractor training regarding reestablishing gas service and responding to customers, complaints of gas odor.
As part of the agreement approved by the Commission, Duke has modified its operations and maintenance procedures, in compliance with PUCO rules, to require that a pressure test be conducted when reestablishing gas service that has been off for 30 or more days. The company has also agreed to re-qualify all company and contractor personnel on applicable procedures for reestablishing gas service. Duke must pay the $500,000 fine to the Ohio General Revenue Fund within 10 business days.
The PUCO is committed to ensuring the safe, reliable and environmentally sound operation of Ohio's natural gas pipeline system. PUCO investigators inspect each natural gas pipeline system in the state at least once every two years and review records and procedures implemented by utilities. When violations are detected, the PUCO orders corrective action and may assess fines and other penalties to ensure that Ohio’s natural gas pipeline systems continue to deliver natural gas safely and reliably.
Today’s Commission order, as well as the agreement filed by the PUCO staff and Duke on Nov. 14, 2011, is available online at www.PUCO.ohio.gov. Click on the link to Docketing Information System and enter case number 11-3636-GA-GPS.