Chesterton Tribune



NIPSCO fined $900K for pipeline mislocates

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The Northern Indiana Public Service Company has agreed to pay a $900,000 fine to settle a complaint brought against it by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s Pipeline Safety Division (PSD), concerning the timeliness and accuracy of utility locates.

Specifically, the PSD found that, between January 2015 and March 2016, 208 separate violations were found “relating to the obligation to timely and accurately locate its underground facilities,” while 53 more violations were found relating to inaccurate locates which “resulted in damage to NIPSCO’s natural-gas facilities because of NIPSCO’s failure to maintain accurate facility maps and records.”

The IURC, in its order dated Wednesday, sites PSD Director Stephen Allen, who in testimony earlier this year stated that “failing to locate pipeline facilities prior to excavation activities poses an imminent hazard to public health and safety and is one of the primary causes of excavation damages.”

Allen further stated that “history has shown excavation damages are the No. 1 cause of injury and loss of life related to natural-gas pipelines.”

In all 261 violations found by the PSD, “property damage occurred but personal injuries were avoided,” Allen noted in his testimony.

Although Allen suggested that--given NIPSCO’s size and the number of locate requests which it routinely handles--it would be “unlikely” to have “zero ‘at-fault’ damages,” yet “the number of repeat violations NIPSCO has had over the last few years is troubling.”

The IURC’s order does not specify when or where any of the 261 violations occurred, but in the summer of 2016--during the 14-month period in question--the Chesterton Fire Department responded at least twice to ruptured gas lines in the Chestnut Hills subdivision, after the locate company under contract with NIPSCO mislocated or failed to locate entirely gas lines in areas under excavation.

NIPSCO Vice-president and General Manager Albert Stone, in his own testimony, stated that NIPSCO replaced its locate contractor on April 1, 2017, and has entered into locate contracts with two other vendors. “While these vendors have been on the job in Indiana for only three months, NIPSCO has begun to see improvements in the accuracy and timeliness of locates,” Stone said.

The settlement agreement provides for the following:

* NIPSCO will pay a $900,000 fine and there will be no effort to recover that sum from NIPSCO’s customers. NIPSCO has also agreed on a schedule of fines to be paid for each locate violation which occurs for the remainder of 2017 and through 2019: all further violations in 2017 will be fined $5,000 each; while from 2018-19 there will be a sliding scale, with the first 25 violations being fined $2,500 each and any over 200 $7,000 each.

* NIPSCO will provide PSD with “up-to-date pipeline safety compliance organizational data and corresponding contact information.”

* NIPSCO will provide PSD with “ongoing reports on a series of performance metrics.”

* And NIPSCO will implement the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended best-management practices for pipeline safety management systems.

In a statement released late on Wednesday, NIPSCO Executive Vice President & President Violet Sistovaris commented on the IURC’s order. “Ensuring the safety of the public, our natural gas system, and our employees is the most important responsibility we have,” she said. “And we’re committed to making improvements in the areas identified by the Commission.”



Posted 11/30/2017




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