The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) said Thursday that it tentatively approved a settlement with Equitable Gas Co. concerning a 2003 natural gas explosion and fire that damaged part of an apartment building in Pittsburgh, injuring six people. The utility company agreed to provide additional emergency response training to its employees, set aside $55,000 to train other smaller utility companies in emergency response and pay a $5,000 fine.
On Jan. 17, 2003, Equitable was investigating reports of gas odor at an apartment in the Three Rivers Manor complex in Spring Hill when a building directly across the street exploded. PUC attorneys alleged that Equitable violated several gas safety regulations, including failing to inspect adjacent buildings when the gas leak was discovered and failing to eliminate a possible ignition source by not shutting off electricity to the building across the street.
They also allege that Equitable did not have accurate pipeline and valve maps onsite, which impeded the progress of work crews. Equitable disputed some of the allegations, but asked the PUC to approve the settlement in order to resolve the informal investigation and avoid potentially costly litigation.
Equitable agreed to provide additional training for employees in emergency response procedures, hazardous leak investigations, and pipeline shutdown procedures. It also will update its distribution pipeline maps to identify valves that no longer exist, and it will develop a plan to evaluate cast iron valves for corrosion and to remove ones which are found to be unsafe, the PUC said in a statement.
The utility must begin to implement the changes within 60 days after the settlement is finalized. In addition, Equitable must spend $55,000 to train smaller utility companies on damage prevention and gas leak management and safety. The training must be completed within 18 months after the settlement is finalized. Equitable also agreed to pay the fine, which will be paid to the Commonwealth's general fund, and the company cannot recoup the training costs or fine in future rate cases.
Parties to the case have 20 days to file objections to the settlement. If no objections are filed, the settlement becomes final. Equitable Utilities provides gas and gas-related services to more than 270,000 customers.
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