The state is slapping UGI Utilities with more than $2 million in penalties for its role in a deadly natural-gas explosion on July 2, 2017, that killed a worker, injured three others and flattened a house in a dense residential neighborhood in Manor Township.
“The actions taken by UGI employees were not prioritized to protect life and property and eliminate hazards,” the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said in a civil complaint filed Thursday.
“Additionally, UGI’s procedures in place at the time of the explosion were deficient, especially in recognizing and managing an underground blowing gas situation.”
See full text of the PUC complaint below.
UGI employee Richard Bouder, 54, was killed by flying debris in the explosion. Three other workers — two from UGI and one from the Lancaster Area Sewer Authority — were injured after responding to reports of a gas leak at a single-family home at 206 Springdale Lane.
That home was completely destroyed by the blast. Four nearby homes were damaged and two were condemned.
The complaint alleges that UGI violated various state and federal regulations in connection with the explosion.
The National Transportation Safety Board, after a nearly year-long investigation, issued a report in June that said the blast may have been caused by the improper installation of a PermaLock mechanical tapping tee in 1998.
According to the report, the part was leaking gas at the connection between the assembly and the natural gas pipeline in front of the home.
A spokesman for the NTSB said in June that the investigation was ongoing and a final report, detailing an analysis of the explosion and probable cause, was still several months away.
However, UGI “failed to follow its own procedures or failed to maintain adequate procedures” in order to protect life and property, the PUC complaint states.
According to the complaint, initial readings outside the Springdale Lane home on July 2, 2017, were more than 20 times UGI’s threshold for a hazardous leak.
With that knowledge, the complaint says, UGI workers “should have directed immediate closure of the closest valve.”
The valve, the document notes, is approximately 870 feet from the affected house. Closing it would have shut off gas to all customers on the block and would have required UGI workers later to turn the gas back on at each residence — “a time-consuming process that would have kept the on-call UGI employees working for several hours during a holiday weekend.”
Moreover, the complaint says, UGI should have called 911 for emergency backup immediately upon discovering the high readings. According to the company’s narrative, UGI employees on the scene waited more than an hour before making that call.
In a heavily redacted portion of the complaint, PUC cited several additional instances in which UGI’s emergency procedures were deficient for the dangerous situation and chided the company for failing to evacuate residents in the area surrounding the leak.
PUC is empowered by the state to review and enforce regulations governing pipeline safety, and to impose civil penalties for violations.
The maximum penalty allowed under federal law is $2,090,022 — which is the amount PUC has demanded from UGI.
The complaint finds 19 specific violations in the way UGI handled the situation.
It also spells out more than a dozen corrective actions, including construction of a training facility, various revisions to UGI’s procedures manual and facilitation of educational programs with each fire department within its service area.
According to documents provided to LNP by PUC spokesman Dave Hixson on Thursday, UGI has 20 days to respond to the complaint.
UGI can contest the complaint in court or admit guilt by paying the civil penalty, according to details spelled out in the notice.
Joseph Swope, UGI’s manager of medial relations and special projects in Reading, said in a brief statement Thursday that the company received PUC’s complaint earlier that day.
“UGI Utilities has cooperated fully with the PUC throughout its investigation of this incident and will continue to do so as we review the complaint and respond to the PUC within the specified time-frame,” the statement reads.
“UGI Utilities remains fully committed to the safety of our customers, employees and residents of the many communities we serve.”
Read the full text of the complaint by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission against UGI Utilities for the house explosion on July 2, 2017, that left one man dead, three injured, and flattened a home in Manor Township.