PEPPER PIKE — The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved a $1 million settlement agreement on July 1 between the commission and Dominion Energy Ohio for a November gas line explosion in the city.

Commission staff members found the cause of the explosion to be a failure in the 30-inch steel distribution main line, which released natural gas into the atmosphere before igniting, according to a PUCO report. Dominion’s failure to follow proper procedures, poor construction practices and a lack of oversight contributed to the pipeline’s failure, the report states.

The gas leak caused a massive fire on Brainard Circle just after midnight on Nov. 15. No one was injured, but there was extensive property damage to the road and surrounding greenery. At the end of June, Dominion had paid Pepper Pike more than $64,000 in engineering fees for repairs.

“It’s not unexpected that Dominion would have faced issues with [the PUCO] regarding the event,” Mayor Richard Bain said last week.

A third-party inspection company hired by the city on Sept. 7 last year reported that the construction crew stopped boring because one of the pins holding the auger blade to the drive shaft broke, according to the PUCO report. The crew discovered that a weld on the bottom of the casing had failed and should have indicated that the auger head and bore path were drifting upwards toward the surface, the report stated.

The non-level boring path caused strain on the bottom of the casing being pushed through the bore, which created a bend that placed excessive strain on the pipe once it was installed. This ultimately resulted in the gas line’s failure, the PUCO report concluded.

According to PUCO, “neither [Dominion] nor the contractor took mitigating actions, such as widening the boring, to minimize strain on the casing or the 30-inch pipe that was eventually installed in the bore.” Dominion reported that no issues or problems existed during the boring operation, the PUCO report states.

The report also stated that Dominion did not have procedures in its manual for installation of pipe by boring and did not provide training on auger boring for its employees or contractors or have criteria to determine whether people engaged in boring were qualified to do the work.

Dominion Energy Ohio “was unable to provide documentation showing welds were subject to visual inspection,” the report stated.

PUCO recommended that Dominion develop and implement a third-party audit of their gas safety program. The audit would review Dominion’s culture of safety, training, contracts, work documentation, oversight methods and resources. Under this settlement agreement, Dominion would also be subject to the possibility of a future $500,000 fine if it breaches the provisions of the agreement.

“[The PUCO] staff also concluded that the number of bad welds found at the site, [Dominion’s] previous enforcement history related to not following or enforcing procedures in the field, and poor documentation practices show that failures similar to this incident may recur in the future unless properly addressed,” according to the report.

Dominion continues to work on repairs around Brainard Circle, including road repairs and beautifying residential lawns that were affected by the incident.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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