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Washington State Regulators May Fine Cascade $4M For Inadequate NatGas Pipeline Records

Regulators in Washington state have filed a complaint against Cascade Natural Gas Corp. for allegedly violating state and federal pipeline safety regulations and have recommended a maximum fine of $4 million.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) said Tuesday an investigation by staff found Cascade could not provide required documentation for nearly 40% of its high-pressure pipelines traversing the state. Staff alleged that Cascade failed to maintain records and documentation of the maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) for at least 116 pipeline segments.

"Cascade has demonstrated a lax attitude toward compliance that exposes the public to an unacceptable level of risk," UTC staff said.

The UTC said a hearing would be scheduled before the three-member commission to discuss the complaint. The commission is not bound by its staff recommendation.

"Cascade just received the complaint and staff investigation report, and has not had time for a thorough review," company spokesman Mark Hanson told NGI on Wednesday. "We take this complaint and the safety of our pipeline system seriously.

"We continue to work with the UTC staff to finalize the MAOP compliance plan that has been filed. We will follow the appropriate channels in regard to the formal hearing process with the UTC."

Kennewick, WA-based Cascade is a subsidiary of MDU Resources Group Inc. that provides natural gas to more than 272,000 customers in Washington and Oregon.

UTC regulators and Cascade have tangled since 2010, when a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) pipeline ruptured and exploded in San Bruno, CA (see Daily GPISept. 15, 2010). Investigators in California later discovered that PG&E had also failed to maintain the MAOP records (see Daily GPIMarch 1).

According to the UTC, Cascade was unable to produce all of the necessary MAOP documentation during three separate inspections in 2013. The commission approved an agreement between staff and Cascade in 2015 to develop a comprehensive MAOP compliance plan by Aug. 12, 2015. Cascade also agreed to "assume the most stringent safety protocols for pipelines with insufficient MAOP-confirming documentation," the UTC said.

Cascade failed to meet the deadline but submitted a plan on Jan. 29. The plan was subsequently rejected by regulators after they determined that “it did not meet the requirements of the commission's order," the UTC said. Cascade was then ordered to resubmit the plan by April 29. According to regulators, the company complied on the day of the deadline. The plan is currently under review by the UTC.

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