(AP) Ń A northern Indiana utility is facing a $1.1 million fine Ń the
largest in state history Ń after state regulators cited it for natural gas
pipeline safety violations and specified that the company cannot pass that
cost onto its ratepayers.
The Indiana Utility
Regulatory Commission cited the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. for
instances of failing to locate or mark underground pipelines within two days
of a request being made, as is required by pipeline safety procedures in
advance of any excavation work.
which released its decision Wednesday, said the violations dating to 2018
posed a public safety threat.
responding to and locating pipelines is critical to avoiding property damage
and personal injury potentially resulting from natural gas explosions,” the
commission said in a news release.
The commission said
in its order that the $1.1 million fine against Merrillville, Indiana-based
NIPSCO is the largest in state history.
The utility is not
allowed to pass that cost onto consumers as a rate hike, the commissioners
wrote, so the fine will not result in higher electric or gas bills.
latest judgment against the utility stems from a 2017 ruling that fined
NIPSCO $900,000 in civil penalties for violations dating back to 2015. The
utility had agreed to pay further fines if later caught for similar
violations, the commission said. Regulators said NIPSCO was fined $765,000
in February 2019 for violations that occurred in 2017.
Commission’s Pipeline Safety Division and the utility agreed on the dollar
amount for each violation NIPSCO commits in 2017, 2018, and 2019 with
respect to locating its underground gas pipelines and facilities,” the
commission said in a statement.
Nichole DeMario said the utility has acknowledged the fine and pledged to
correct issues around line locations. She said in a statement that NIPSCO’s
goal is to ensure public safety while maintaining a safe natural gas system.
DeMario said the
utility typically completes more than 450,000 requests to locate gas lines
addresses 230, a very small number of instances in which NIPSCO failed to
locate or provide an accurate locate for underground utilities when
requested by someone doing excavation work,” she said.
NIPSCO is focused
on addressing the “root cause” of the violation by using a new pipeline
safety management system, ensuring maps and records are up to date, more
training and internal process improvements to address and identify
underground lines, DeMario said.
She said the
company cut damage to underground lines by 13%, while reducing the number of
locating errors by nearly one-quarter from 2017 to 2019.