Friday, December 22, 2023

PUC Update On Investigation Of Dec. 12 Home Explosion In Sewickley Heights, Allegheny County

Pipeline safety engineers from the Safety Division of the
Public Utility Commission– which is part of the Commission’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) – initiated an investigation into the December 12th incident in Sewickley Heights Borough, Allegheny County, which destroyed a home and injured one person. 

At this point in the investigation, no evidence has been discovered to indicate an unintentional release of gas from Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, Inc.’s (Columbia Gas) facilities.    

Sewickley Heights Investigation Overview

On December 12, 2023, the PUC’s Safety Division was notified of a reported house explosion at 543 Backbone Road in Sewickley Heights and pipeline safety engineers immediately responded to the scene.

While emergency response efforts were still active at the scene, investigators from the Safety Division began gathering preliminary information from responders, utilities, and neighboring residents around that location – a process which is continuing. 

 The home that was damaged was a secondary cottage structure on the property.

I&E is limiting its investigative efforts at this time as no indications have been discovered of jurisdictional asset involvement. 

Columbia Gas performed a leak survey with no gas leaks detected, and no other concerns were discovered during the integrity testing of jurisdictional gas facilities. 

Safety engineers will continue to work with the Allegheny County Fire Marshall to review and gather evidence at the scene and the safety team remains in close communication with Columbia Gas as additional data is gathered. 

The Safety Division appreciates the cooperation of emergency responders and officials from Sewickley Heights and Allegheny County.

PUC Safety Division Jurisdiction and Investigations

The Safety Division’s investigation has been limited at this time as no indications of jurisdictional involvement was discovered.  

I&E Safety will continue to gather evidence from Columbia Gas and stands ready to continue the investigation should evidence warrant such actions. 

It is important to note that I&E investigations are limited – by regulation – to the involvement of, or impact from, jurisdictional operators, including utilities, under the jurisdiction of the PUC, along with natural gas transported by those assets. 

I&E does not have jurisdiction to investigate items, events, or piping beyond the outlet of a service meter within a structure – and the interior, non-jurisdictional, assets involved in incidents are the subject of investigation by other parties and agencies outside the PUC.

The Safety Division recognizes the strong public interest in these types of incidents, especially for those who have been directly impacted, and works to address safety concerns in a timely manner. 

Still, it is important to understand that these are complex circumstances which may require extensive analyses by engineers and other experts, along with laboratory testing and other technical study before conclusions can be reached.

Any determinations and/or actions are based on that information, within the scope of the PUC’s jurisdiction, and any safety concerns identified by investigators are addressed promptly with regulated pipeline operators and/or utilities.  

While the full investigation by the Safety Division may take up to a year or longer to reach any conclusions, I&E will not hesitate to take immediate action to address health or public safety concerns that are identified.

Click Here for the complete announcement.

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[Posted: December 22, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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