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Report recommends Dominion Energy Ohio forfeit $2.5 million for last year's Pepper Pike gas explosion

Dominion has 30 days to respond to report
Posted at 1:33 PM, Mar 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-07 13:45:27-05

PEPPER PIKE, Ohio — An initial report released by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has recommended that Dominion Energy Ohio forfeit $2.5 million for a gas pipeline explosion that happened last year in Pepper Pike.

According to an investigation report released last month by PUCO, “evidence shows that a failure to follow established welding procedures, insufficient inspection and oversight at the construction site, and lack of procedures and training regarding auger boring, which led to the pipeline being subject to excessive strain, all played a role in the failure of the pipeline.”

The explosion happened Nov. 15 around 12:54 a.m. on Brainard Circle in Pepper Pike. The explosion caused a large fire resulting from the gas leak.

The fire caused 500 homes to lose electricity.

Nearby residents told News 5 at the time that they could feel heat from the flames hundreds of feet away.

Various roads were closed while crews worked to battle the flames. Between the road closures and the power failure, several schools in the area were temporarily closed.

According to PUCO’s findings:

“Dominion showed a lack of institutional control at the construction project located at Shaker Blvd. in Pepper Pike. Poor construction practices, failure to follow established procedures, and a lack of oversight all contributed to the weld failure and pipeline rupture. Staff further believes that the number of bad welds found at the site, Dominion’s previous enforcement history related to not following or enforcing procedures in the field, and poor documentation practices show that failures similar to the pipeline rupture in Pepper Pike may recur in the future if the factors that contributed to the rupture are not addressed.”

According to the report, PUCO has recommended that Dominion "develop and implement a third-party audit of the Dominion gas safety program" to determine that:

  • Dominion has adequate programs, structures and incentives in place to maintain a culture of safety and regulatory compliance for Dominion’s employees and its contractors and the extent to which Dominion is responsive to employees or contractors bringing safety issues to management attention.
  • The training that Dominion provides to or requires of its employees and contractor personnel for compliance with its standards and procedures is appropriate and effective.
  • Dominion’s contracts with its contractors are structured to ensure that gas facilities are installed, repaired, or replaced properly, safely, and cost-effectively.
  • The methods Dominion employs to track and document work allow for auditing of such work for compliance by both Dominion and the Commission.
  • The methods Dominion employs to oversee new construction for compliance with Dominion standards and procedures in the field is adequate and effective.
  • Dominion has provided sufficient resources to its gas safety compliance program to adequately and effectively monitor its mandated safety activities and programs for compliance, whether these programs are implemented by Dominion employees or contractor employees.

The report states that "given the severity of the violations" the recommended forfeiture of $2.5 million should be accessed due to Dominion Energy Ohio’s “failure to comply with pipeline safety regulations that caused or contributed to this incident.”

According to the report, the incident was a serious danger to the public and had it happened during the daytime instead of around 1 a.m., “the likelihood that someone would have been injured or killed would have been significantly higher.”

A Dominion spokesperson told News 5 on Saturday that the company has 30 days to respond to PUCO's initial report and it is currently in the process of doing so. Once a response is submitted, it will go before PUCO's board for a final decision on if there will be any fines or penalties.

Dominion released the following statement Saturday:

“Safety is our number one priority at Dominion Energy Ohio. We are actively engaged in a thorough review of what caused this incident and will take all necessary steps to prevent this from happening again. We are reviewing the findings and recommendations submitted by the Staff of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and will have a full response within the 30-day time period set by the PUCO. We remain committed to the well-being of our customers, to safe construction and pipeline-safety practices and to compliance with all pipeline safety laws and regulations.”

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