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July 26, 2013

3 Ind. gas utilities face pipeline safety fines

Vectren included; review comes after California explosion which killed 8

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has issued $180,000 in fines against three of the state’s largest natural gas companies for safety violations involving underground pipelines.

The commission said Thursday the fines stemmed from Northern Indiana Public Service Co., Vectren and Citizens Gas not following procedures or keeping accurate pipeline records, which resulted in pipeline locations either being misidentified or not found as required under the state’s “Call Before You Dig” laws.

Commission officials started the safety review after the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., that destroyed 38 houses and killed eight people.

“It’s still being discussed to this day, both at the federal level and by the states, to make sure that what happened there doesn’t happen anywhere else,” IURC spokeswoman Danielle McGrath told the Evansville Courier & Press.

The commission’s order levied $75,000 fines against both Vectren and NIPSCO and $30,000 against Citizens Gas. It also directs the utilities to fix the violations.

Vectren spokeswoman Chase Kelley said the company will thoroughly review the IURC’s order, then determine its next course of action.

“We take compliance with state and federal pipeline regulations very seriously,” Kelley said.

Twenty-five pipe location incidents involved Vectren. Kelley said the company responds to more than 400,000 gas pipeline location requests each year in its Indiana and Ohio service areas.

For NIPSCO, commission officials found 19 occasions where workers damaged pipes while digging because they weren’t able to locate them and six cases were pipelines were damaged because of mapping issues, The Times of Munster reported.

NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer said the company wouldn’t appeal the state order, including the fines.

“NIPSCO has upgraded its systems and internal procedures to improve performance in responding to locate requests received throughout the year, and will continue to investigate and implement further measures to reduce pipeline damages,” he said.

In the Citizens Gas case, the commission found eight instances of excavation damage caused by mismarked pipelines.

A Citizens Gas spokeswoman said the company was reviewing the IURC’s order and is committed to having a safe delivery system.

Evansville-based Vectren has about 680,000 natural gas customers in southern and central Indiana, while Merrillville-based NIPSCO provides gas to nearly 790,000 homes and businesses across the northern third of the state. Citizens Gas has some 265,000 customers in and around Indianapolis.

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