Record Safety Fine Against PA Utility

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 @ 12:10 PM gHale

The largest fine in the history of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) went to UGI Penn Natural Gas as a penalty for the company’s mishandling of a potentially explosive gas leak.

The Public Utility Commission late last week approved a previously announced settlement with UGI which included a $1 million penalty.

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The leak occurred in the spring of 2012 on Route 309 in Wilkes-Barre Twp. near the gasoline tanks of a Sheetz station. It occurred after the utility’s inadequate investigation into the leak report, insufficient record keeping and inadequate repairs to a badly corroded 50-year-old line, according to the PUC.

Based on its investigation, the commission said the utility company was not compliant with state and federal regulations. Under the settlement between the commission and the utility company, UGI PNG does not admit any wrongdoing, but does agree to implement new safety measures.

Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the record fine sends a “strong message” to companies to prioritize safety.

UGI may not use money from customers to pay the fine. To be sure it doesn’t, the commission conducts regular audits of the company’s accounts to check for rate increases, Kocher said. Under state law, the commission could have handed out a maximum fine of $2 million.

The Reading-based utility drew the attention of the commission in January for safety shortfalls after a fatal 2011 explosion in Allentown. Commission Chairman Robert F. Powelson railed against UGI, calling its compliance and safety record “patently unacceptable” and “downright alarming,” and alluded to the commission’s ultimate power: revoking UGI’s permission to operate as a utility.

Joe Swope, a spokesman for UGI Penn Natural Gas, refused to answer questions on why the company wasn’t compliant with regulations before the commission’s investigation or how the leak happened, but said the company’s pipes are now safe.

“Safety is a core value to UGI,” Swope said.

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