LG&E to pay $125,000 fine in 2011 house explosion case - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

LG&E to pay $125,000 fine in 2011 house explosion case

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The explosion on December 6, 2011 destroyed a house at 5206 River Trail Place. The explosion on December 6, 2011 destroyed a house at 5206 River Trail Place.
No humans were seriously injured in the explosion and resulting fire, but a dog was killed. No humans were seriously injured in the explosion and resulting fire, but a dog was killed.
The PSC alleged that LG&E violated four pipeline safety regulations. The PSC alleged that LG&E violated four pipeline safety regulations.
Several other homes were damaged in the explosion. Several other homes were damaged in the explosion.
Air 3 flew over the destroyed home after the flames were extinguished. Air 3 flew over the destroyed home after the flames were extinguished.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Louisville Gas & Electric Co. will pay a $125,000 fine to the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) in a settlement of alleged safety violations uncovered during the PSC's investigation into a natural gas explosion that destroyed a house in southern Jefferson County.

Another $125,000 in penalties was suspended pending LG&E's completion of several requirements set forth in a settlement agreement approved by the PSC on Tuesday.

Both the $125,000 payment and the $250,000 total penalty are the largest ever assessed by the PSC in a safety case. The maximum possible fine in this case was $500,000.

The explosion on December 6, 2011 destroyed a house at 5206 River Trail Place and damaged several nearby properties. Everton Coehlo, his wife and young child were in the homes at the time. He said his family made it out right before the walls came down, but the family's dog did not make it out alive. No other humans were seriously injured in the explosion.

Coehlo wasn't aware of the PSC decision when reached by phone Tuesday morning. After informing him of the fine, he said he needed time to "digest" it.

According to the PSC, the explosion happened about 2 1/2 hours after the first LG&E worker arrived at the scene to investigate a report of a possible gas leak in the neighborhood. LG&E workers checked three nearby houses following the explosion and evacuated those homes when gas was detected.

A fourth home, where the three residents of the destroyed house had taken refuge, was not checked. That house was evacuated two hours later when firefighters tested it and found gas inside.

John Batesman lives across the street from the home that was leveled. He believes this was his home because crews came in two hours after the explosion to evacuate. "We had the people who's home exploded, newspaper, TV were all in our home," explained Batesman. "LG&E, somebody dropped the ball because we were still in there."

In reviewing LG&E's initial response to the odor complain, PSC investigators determined that the first company worker at the scene did not take the necessary steps – including properly checking for gas in sewers – to determine how far the gas had migrated and to establish a safe perimeter around the leak.

A subsequent review of LG&E records determined that the company had allowed pressure in the neighborhood's gas system to slightly exceed allowable levels on a regular basis.

The PSC alleged that LG&E violated four pipeline safety regulations:

  • Not following proper safety procedures during an emergency response.
  • Failing to minimize the danger of a gas explosion by not checking for gas levels in all nearby homes and eliminating all possible ignition sources.
  • Operating a gas system in excess of the established maximum allowable operating pressure.
  • Not taking the required corrective actions when abnormal pressure levels are detected.

Each of the alleged violations is tied to a specific provision in federal pipeline safety regulations.

LG&E spokesperson Brian Phillips said that pressure had nothing to do with the explosion. "In the past there have been fluctuations, which under federal law are allowed in our interpretation."

Measures that LG&E is required to take under the settlement agreement include:

  • Providing additional and enhanced training for its employees who respond to reports of gas leaks.
  • Strengthening protocols for the response to leak reports.
  • Improving its gas training facility to allow a greater variety of emergency response scenarios.
  • Conducting surprise drills for field response personnel, with PSC natural gas safety investigators in attendance.
  • Making sure that operating pressure of its natural gas distribution system does not exceed maximum allowable levels under normal operating conditions.

The PSC said it's responsible to determine safety violations and "the investigation made no findings as to whether the alleged violations in this case caused or contributed to the explosion."

Phillips calls the explosion an unfortunate accident. "The fire marshal concluded that the accident was caused by a water line rupture which then ruptured the natural gas line."

Batesman isn't so sure. "The only thing that report does is reconfirm our belief in this area that LG&E was at fault. whether they want to lay hold of it, claim to it or what, it's their fault."

Read the full PSC report here.

Copyright 2013 WAVE News. All rights reserved.

 

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