Thursday, November 9, 2023

PUC Seeks More Information On Peoples Gas Over-Pressurization Incident In Indiana County That Damaged Hundreds Of Appliances, Caused Distribution Pipeline Leaks

On November 9, the Public Utility Commission
moved to seek additional specific financial information related to a proposed settlement concerning events that resulted in the over-pressurization of the Peoples Natural Gas distribution system serving the community of Robinson, in Indiana County that caused a wide range of damage to utility and customer equipment.

The Commission voted 5-0 to adopt a motion from PUC Vice Chair Kimberly Barrow to seek supplemental information from Peoples Natural Gas and the PUC’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) – clearly and publicly detailing the cost of replacing private property that was damaged during this incident, as well as explaining how those costs will be addressed – before the Commission takes public comment on the merits of the settlement.

Over-Pressurization Incident and Proposed Settlement

The case concerns an event that occurred on April 29, 2020, involving the over-pressurization of the Peoples Natural Gas distribution system serving Robinson, which occurred as technicians from the utility were conducting an annual inspection on the regulator for that system.

As a result of this incident, Peoples Natural Gas replaced 11 furnaces, 70 water heaters, one range, 194 furnace valves, and 135 water tank valves.  

They also replaced approximately 4,552 feet of steel pipe and 133 service lines and conducted daily leak surveys for eight weeks until all leaking service lines were replaced. 

According to the settlement, I&E noted that technicians failed to follow company procedure; that training materials provided by Peoples Natural Gas were not sufficiently detailed to ensure that employees were qualified; and that the design of the regulator station likely contributed to the incident.

The settlement calls for Peoples Natural Gas to pay a $250,000 civil penalty.  

Additionally, the utility shall review all regulator stations in its distribution system within 30 days of the Commission’s final approval of the settlement; prioritize regulator station improvement projects based on a risk model; and make a series of procedural and training improvements intended to reduce the likelihood of future incidents.

Supplemental Information Sought

The motion adopted by the Commission today directs Peoples Natural Gas and I&E to provide supplemental information within 20 days, detailing the cost of replacing and/or remediating the private property that was damaged during this over-pressurization incident – as well as explain whether those costs will be covered by insurance, will be borne by utility stockholders, or whether the utility will attempt to seek recovery of those costs in a future rate case.  

Additionally, the utility and I&E are directed to comment on their intentions regarding any potential recovery of the proposed $250,000 civil penalty in any future rate case involving Peoples Natural Gas.

For documents related to this case, visit PUC Docket No.: M-2023-3024990.

[Posted: November 9, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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