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Puget Sound Energy may have to pay $2.8M, inspect 40,000 lines after 2016 blast

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Puget Sound Energy may have to pay $2.8M, inspect 40,000 lines after 2016 blast

One year after a Seattle gas explosion, Puget Sound Energy Inc. may have to pay as much as $2.8 million and do inspections on as many as 40,000 retired service lines, according to a settlement agreement announced March 28.

The March 2016 gas explosion leveled buildings and blew out windows, injuring multiple emergency responders. Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission staff found that a Puget Sound Energy contractor had incorrectly abandoned an aboveground gas service line in 2004, allowing the pipe to remain active and moving gas for over a decade after it was supposed to be shut off.

Puget Sound Energy committed five violations in botching the line deactivation and failing to do leak surveys and testing leading up to the explosion, commission staff concluded.

The staff had previously recommended that Puget Sound Energy be penalized $3.2 million for the violations. The recent settlement called for a base penalty of $1.5 million, with an additional $1.3 million possible if Puget Sound Energy does not complete an extensive inspection and repair program.

The agreement between Puget Sound Energy and the commission staff laid out four types of remediation work. Over 18 months, the utility would have to do initial inspections in business districts on all 3,060 lines that the company's contractor retired between 2000 and 2010. Over 24 months, the company would need to inspect a sample of 6,578 service lines the contractor retired near high-occupancy structures, prioritizing schools, public buildings and hospitals.

Again looking at high-occupancy structures, Puget Sound Energy would have 36 months to do initial inspections on a sample of 3,263 service lines and a sample of 3,069 service lines retired before 2000 and after 2010, respectively.

If the Puget Holdings LLC subsidiary finds any active gas lines in its samples from high-occupancy areas, the utility will have to inspect all the locations in those groups, not just the samples. Puget Sound Energy's contractor retired service lines in 37,729 locations that fall into high-occupancy category.

The settlement agreement requires commission approval to be implemented.