Pipeline safety is truly falling under the microscope after a spate of incidents earlier this year, so along those lines the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) fined three of the state’s largest natural gas companies $180,000 for violations involving underground pipelines.
The commission said Thursday the fines stemmed from Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO), Vectren and Citizens Gas not following procedures or keeping accurate pipeline records, which resulted in either misidentified pipeline locations 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, CA, that killed eight people and destroyed 38 houses.
“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,” said IURC spokeswoman Danielle McGrath.
The commission’s order levied $75,000 fines against 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 the company’s 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 where pipelines suffered damage because of mapping issues.
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 remains 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 265,000 customers in and around Indianapolis.