Lehigh Valley

PUC adjusts UGI fine to $500,000 for Allentown blast

HARRISBURG, Pa. - UGI is facing additional civil fines of $114,000 levied by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for an explosion that killed five people in Allentown in 2011.

The PUC modified the settlement reached as part of an investigation of the explosion by increasing the civil penalty to $500,000. That's the maximum amount allowed by law at the time of the explosion.

UGI, based in Reading, cannot pass on the cost of such civil penalties to customers. The money is paid into the state's general fund.

"We want to emphasize that UGI's compliance history related to gas safety issues is patently unacceptable," said PUC Chairman Robert F.  Powelson and Vice Chairman John F. Coleman Jr., in their joint motion. "This is the eighth time in slightly more than four years that this commission has adjudicated a matter containing allegations of gas safety violations by a UGI-owned gas distribution utility. This goes beyond cause for concern; it is downright alarming."

The modification also requires UGI to:

*  File with the PUC for comment and approval a pilot program designed to test enhanced leak detection measures in Allentown;

*  File an updated distribution system integrity management program plan;

*  File a plan establishing an initial schedule for meeting the main replacement requirements outlines in the settlement;

Under terms of the settlement, UGI also will:

*  Replace all cast iron natural gas pipelines over a 14-year period and bare steel over a 30-year period;

*  Enhance its odorant testing program; and

*  Install fixed odorant level monitoring equipment at all third-party points of delivery into UGI's pipeline system and fixed odorizes at gate stations serving Allentown, Lancaster, Reading, Harrisburg and certain other population centers in its service territory.

UGI released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying in part:

"UGI will review the language of the motion and tentative PUC order and provide its response within the indicated time-frame. 

"UGI has continuously focused on an infrastructure improvement process, and has accelerated its replacement of natural gas pipelines made of non-contemporary materials. UGI plans to continue to work collaboratively with the PUC to ensure the safe delivery of energy to UGI's customers, and the many communities it serves."

The explosion happened on Feb. 9, 2011, at 542 and 544 N. 13th St. in Allentown. Five people were killed in the blast, which PUC investigators determined was caused by UGI's 12-inch cracked cast iron gas main.

The PUC's complaint alleged 178 violations of the commission's regulations, the Public Utility Code or federal regulations.

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