Washington state pipeline safety regulators recommend penalties against Avista Corp. that could exceed $1.1 million. The proposed penalties are for actions that resulted in a natural gas explosion and fire in December 2008 that destroyed part of an Odessa home and injured two people.
Investigators with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission’s Pipeline Safety Program concluded that the explosion was caused by a leak from a broken natural gas pipeline that was improperly installed. The investigators also found that Avista removed the cracked section of pipe before commission staff completed its investigation of the incident.
In a complaint filed today, the UTC staff alleges that Avista violated state rules by installing the pipe without adequate support and protection, and by prematurely removing the damaged pipeline section. The agency's staff maintains there was no reason to disturb the cracked pipe after the gas flow was stopped because no one in the area was receiving gas service from it.
The three-member commission will consider the pipeline safety staff’s recommendations at a hearing later this year.
In addition to penalties, the UTC staff recommend that commissioners order Avista to take actions to ensure the Spokane utility's gas pipeline system is safe and in compliance with state regulations. The staff also recommends that Odessa’s volunteer firefighters be trained on natural gas-related emergency procedures to help ensure safety in the event of a gas leak.