HARRISBURG — UGI-Penn Natural Gas has agreed to pay $1 million to settle a case regarding an improperly repaired gas line in Wilkes-Barre Township that could have led to a disaster.
“Although no serious consequences resulted from this incident, the potential for serious consequences to occur was significant,” according to the 47-page report dated Aug. 16 and filed on the PUC’s website Tuesday. “Therefore, (the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement) submits that UGI-PNG’ s alleged conduct is of a serious nature and was considered in arriving at the substantial civil penalty in this settlement.”
Though the findings of fact and signed agreement was filed with the state Public Utility Commission, PUC spokeswoman Jennifer R. Kocher said it is up to the board to accept, reject or modify the settlement at a future meeting this fall.
According to the settlement, the investigation was launched thanks to a UGI-Penn Natural Gas whistle blower who reported that improper clamps were used to repair a leak on a high pressure gas distribution line along Business Route 309 in the vicinity of the Sheetz gas station last year. The report found clamps meant to handle gas mains with a maximum 100 pounds per square inch were used on pipes with a flow of 320 pounds per square inch.
The lengthy report details a series of events related to the section of 50-year old gas pipe that included leaks, repairs and a subsequent investigation that the PUC’s Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement found to be inadequate.
According to the investigation findings, the bureau’s Gas Safety Division received an email from a Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration representative noting a person describing himself as a UGI-PNG employee had alleged that a leak on a high-pressure gas distribution line had been discovered and subsequently repaired by the company “using improper clamps on Saturday, May 12, 2012 , and that the clamps used for the repair blew out on Tuesday, May 15, and that the gas company may be trying to cover up the release.”
The report goes on to spell out that as a result of the Route 309 incident, the Gas Safety Division conducted an expanded investigation of UGI-PNG’ s leak classification, surveys and management systems and compliance with state and federal regulations.
A review of records over a one-year period revealed that UGI-PNG was not compliant with federal/state regulations, the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement found. The report states UGI-PNG “inadequately monitored and repaired leaks, incorrectly classified leaks, inadequately documented and maintained documentation of leak survey and dispatch data, and improperly used and documented its use of the Emergency One Call System.”
In all, 12 violations or omissions were found by investigators, most of which were violations of state and federal laws.
In addition to the $1 million penalty UGI-PNG has agreed to pay, regulators are also calling for additional safety measures to be taken, including the implementation of an automated, computer-based system of recording and tracking the results of leak surveys that will be utilized by UGI-PNG’ s employees and outside contractors performing leak surveys, mapping, investigations and repairs.
The history of violations was taken into consideration when determining the penalty, the findings show, noting that in the past five years, UGI-PNG or its subsidiaries have been involved in at least nine cases arising from alleged gas safety violations.
“The substantial civil penalty in this proceeding is warranted,” the report states.
In its chance to make a statement filed as part of the report, staff attorney Kent D. Murphy said UGI-PNG will take necessary actions to ensure future compliance. As part of that, the company writes in the report that it plans to hire a “substantial” number of employees.
“High on the list of priorities are increased numbers of construction inspectors, regulatory compliance specialists, training personnel, and additional workers trained in corrosion prevention and other distribution integrity management functions,” UGI-PNG includes in the report.