Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Cascade Natural Gas will pay $425,000 safety fine to state, under proposed settlement

by Kyle Kim July 22nd, 2011

SUMMARY: Cascade Natural Gas Corp. has agreed to pay a $425,000 fine for breaking a number of state and federal gas safety laws and under the proposed settlement announced last week with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, is subject to another $1.8 million in fines if it fails to deliver on additional corrective actions including implementing safety and quality assurance programs, and updating their pipeline maps. Commission staff in March 2011 detailed 364 alleged violations by Cascade following a two-year sequence of safety inspections of its pipeline facilities, in addition to an investigation of an “over-pressure” incident. The gas company admitted to having failed to comply with a number of state and federal rules regarding inspection, monitoring and maintenance of its pipeline network, but Cascade does not concede it committed all of the alleged violations. The settlement must still be formally finalized by the UTC board but Cascade has already agreed to the terms.

BACKGROUND: A March 2011 complaint against the company from the commission spelled out 364 alleged lapses in safety and oversight.  The Kennewick-based gas company serves 260,500 customers in 98 Washington and Oregon cities and towns, with over 4,436 miles of natural gas pipelines. UTC’s first cause of action in its formal complaint involved an incident in Sedro Wooley on December 2, 2009 in which one of Cascade’s pipeline sites was dangerously over pressure. Cascade allegedly failed to promptly notify the commission as required. Additionally, UTC alleges Cascade’s worker manual did not properly provide, among other things, an emergency procedure for pipeline failures. Additional violations in the official complaint cover five districts in which Cascade operates in this state: Wenatchee and Moses Lake District, Aberdeen District, Kitsap District, Whatcom District and Tri-Cities District.

KEY LINK: Proposed settlement agreement with Cascade Natural Gas, Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, July 13, 2011

KEY FINDINGS:

  • Under the proposed settlement, Cascade Natural Gas Corp. has been fined and will agree to pay $425,000 for violating federal and state gas safety laws.
  • The commission charged the gas company with 364 federal and state gas safety violations. The gas company launched their own investigation of the alleged violations and admitted to have violated a number of state and federal rules regarding inspection, monitoring and maintenance of its pipeline facilities. However, Cascade is not admitting to all of the alleged violations.
  • The violations UTC alleges against Cascade are based on safety inspections from 2008 to 2010 and a hazardous pipeline overpressure incident in 2009. The formal complaint filed contained 11 causes of action in which the commission found 364 safety violations.
  • Cascade must fulfill eight “action items” (or requirements) as agreed upon by it and the UTC or pay another $1.8 million in suspended fines in addition to the looming $425,000 payment. The items range from revising company safety procedures as well as submitting a detailed report of changes to the commission.
  • Cascade is given 60 days to submit a detailed plan outlining how it will fulfill said requirements. It will be subject to commission approval. Both parties will meet quarterly to ensure progress within the given timeframes.

UPDATE, August 5, 2011: The UTC has formally approved the settlement.


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