CA Fines County for Pipeline Blast

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 @ 07:11 PM gHale

Fresno County is facing a fine of more than $100,000 for its role in the April 17 gas line explosion that killed a Fresno County Jail inmate worker and injured 12 others, said officials at the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal OSHA).

The county failed to outline the hazard presented by an underground line at the work site, Cal OSHA officials said.

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The county disagrees with the state’s violation notice and is appealing the fines, said Paul Nerland, Fresno County’s interim director of personnel services.

Cal OSHA’s report said a county worker severed the 12-inch Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) gas line, leading to an explosion that shot flames 150 feet into the air and threw the worker from his front loader. Nearby workers at the Fresno County Sheriff’s Foundation shooting range suffered burns and one died from injuries caused by the explosion.

A Fresno County public works employee operated the front-end loader on a road formed over a berm that sat above the shooting range, near Highway 99 and the San Joaquin River.

The Cal-OSHA report describes the work being done on the site as “re-establishing and widening an existing access road which had eroded and building up access ramps on the east and west side of the access road.”

The fines were for four serious violations and one general violation totaling $101,125. The four serious violations led to fines of $25,000 each. The general violation was failure to call the “dig-alert” 811 phone number to find out if there were underground utilities in the project’s vicinity. That fine was $1,125.

Among the serious violations, the state document said, the county “did not make a thorough survey of the conditions of the site to determine … the predictable hazards to employees with respect to underground utilities, such as an existing natural gas line.”

The county also ended up fined for failing to mark up the excavation site and not seeking a positive response from the pipeline owner about the existence of the gas line. Other violations ended up related to site work done without determining existence of the pipeline.

The county corrected all the violations, state documents said.

Denny Boyles, a PG&E spokesman, said the utility’s “primary focus remains on the safe operation of our gas pipeline system and educating the public about the importance of digging safely.”

A 260-page report prepared by Exponent, a consulting firm for the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), said in July the “PG&E line ruptured when it was struck by a front loader that was operating in the area at the time of the incident. The significant gouging, scraping and deformation present at the rupture location could only have been caused by contact with the front-loader bucket.”

The report was not the final word on the PUC’s investigation before fault is determined, agency officials said.

In its report, Exponent ruled out the possibility of a bullet striking the gas line and causing the 19-inch fracture that triggered the blast. It also said “the cause of the rupture cannot be attributed to inadequate material properties or manufacturing defects.”