PSE to pay $500,000 gas safety fine

By David A. Grant

Puget Sound Energy would replace 200 miles of aging natural gas pipeline in Western Washington and pay a $500,000 fine to resolve 67 alleged safety violations dating back to 2003, under a settlement announced last Wednesday.

The fine is the most ever paid by Bellevue-based Puget, the state's largest utility.

But, the amount is well under the $1.3 million fine proposed by the WAshington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) in a complaint filed last June, and far from the highest allowable fine of $4.5 million.

The settlement is not related to an explosion last September in the Spiritridge neighborhood of Bellevue, which resulted in the death of Frances Schmitz. That incident is still under investigation.

Puget spokesman Grant Ringel sought to reassure customers about the integrity of the natural gas system.

``The gas pipeline system is safe. We're working hard in collaboration to resolve these issues and to resolve the situation in Spiritridge,'' Ringel said.

The settlement stems from inspections of Puget facilities in King and Pierce counties conducted in 2003.

In the complaint the WUTC found violations that included facilities not tested at required intervals, repairs of leaks that were not completed, or inadequate corrosion protection of some pipelines. Some were repeat violations.

According to information from the WUTC, in addition to the fine, under the proposed settlement Puget also would:

  • Improve its computer programs to ensure the company has accurate and timely pipeline inspection and maintenance schedules;
  • Identify, locate and, if necessary, fix or replace certain sections of steel pipe located close to a building or home.
  • Locate and replace over the next 10 years, an estimated 200 miles of older bare steel pipe that does not have corrosion protection.

In all, Puget operates approximately 11,000 miles of natural gas pipeline serving 660,000 customers in six counties.

Reprinted from the King County Journal

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