OLYMPIA, Wash. – Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has agreed to pay a $275,000 penalty to settle a gas safety complaint that resulted from the 2011 explosion and house fire in the Pinehurst neighborhood of North Seattle.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) filed the complaint alleging that PSE violated certain gas-safety rules when it responded to reported gas leaks in the north Seattle neighborhood that later destroyed a house and injured two people.
Under the settlement agreement, PSE admits there were violations of gas-safety rules and agrees to pay a $275,000 penalty. The company is not allowed to pass any penalty costs to customers through rates.
PSE also agrees to review its emergency procedures and make improvements as necessary. The company will evaluate its natural gas public awareness program and make improvements as recommended by a third party consultant.
Under the agreement, PSE will also provide up to $15,000 in funding to host workshops for Washington state utilities to improve communication and coordination plans among overlapping utilities in emergency situations.
In March, the commission filed the complaint against the company which included a commission staff recommendation to fine PSE $400,000 for failure to follow natural gas leak survey rules.
On Monday, Sept. 26, 2011, leaking natural gas caused an explosion and fire that destroyed a house in Seattle’s Pinehurst neighborhood and resulted in injuries to the homeowners. The explosion also caused property damage to other homes and buildings in the area.
In its investigation of the incident, UTC pipeline safety engineers concluded the most likely cause of the explosion was natural gas leaking from a PSE service pipe located outside the Pinehurst home, although the investigation could not rule out a gas leak in the customers’ pipes under the house.
According to the investigation report, a downed power line owned by Seattle City Light that fell the day before the explosion energized a metal fence post, an abandoned buried metal-water pipe and finally, PSE’s gas-distribution piping. The leak that led to the explosion was caused by “electrical arcing,” which is a powerful jolt of stray electricity that energized PSE’s gas piping and created a hole in the gas service pipe.
While the company promptly responded to the electrical arcing event and conducted leak surveys in the area, the investigation concluded that PSE failed to survey all the gas service lines and mains located in the area, including the service line to the house that exploded and the gas main located under the private road serving the house.
Puget Sound Energy supplies natural gas to 785,000 customers, primarily in the Puget Sound area of Washington. The UTC sets the natural gas rates for PSE’s residential, business and industrial customers.
The UTC monitors natural gas pipeline safety regulations on Puget Sound Energy’s 12,000 miles of natural-gas distribution system in Washington. The commission has the authority to levy fines against pipeline operators found out of compliance. The UTC’s pipeline safety program performs inspections regularly on the state’s 31 pipeline operators.