PUCO fines Columbia Gas of Ohio, asks for improvements after home explosion in Upper Arlington

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–Columbia Gas of Ohio will have to pay $200,000 and make several safety improvements following a March 2015 home explosion in Upper Arlington.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved an agreement requiring the fine, and asking the gas company to take steps to improve its record keeping and enhance safety outreach throughout its service territory.

The penalties are based upon the PUCO’s investigation of the explosion, which caused an estimated $9 million in property damage.

The PUCO staff investigation revealed that a series of actions by various parties combined to cause the explosion. When an old natural gas service line leading to the home was replaced, it was not properly disconnected from Columbia’s main line. A third party misidentified a curb valve to the old natural gas service line as a water valve. When a City of Columbus Water Department technician operated the valve, the PUCO says, natural gas flowed into the home through the improperly abandoned line and ignited.

PUCO staff say they concluded that Columbia did not follow its operating procedures to properly abandon an old service line, including removing or sealing the valve box and physically disconnecting the service line from its main line.

Columbia Gas said in a statement that the situation in Upper Arlington was “unique,” and said they believe the action steps are “the right thing to do.”

The gas company outlined the following steps to reduce the likelihood of something similar happening:

  • Reaching out to water departments, plumbers, public officials and excavators to explain the safety elements of natural gas infrastructure, including how to respond to an unintended release of gas or inadvertent operation of gas valves.
  • Accelerating our program to record the locations of our gas facilities using GPS. Work is currently under way in Clintonville and Hilliard. The program will be substantially completed statewide by 2023.
  • Continuing our natural gas line replacement program. Since the inception of our program in 2008, we have replaced 1,341 miles of aging mainline, as well as 159,324 service lines. Under the program, the new gas systems have enhanced safety features and will provide reliable service for many years to come.
  • Checking our service line records for any anomalies that suggest a need for further investigation.
  • Completing plans to build a new training center, where employees will practice safety techniques under realistic conditions. We will invite emergency responders to train at the center as well, so they can learn how to respond to natural gas incidents. We will also revise and update our training curriculum.

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