PUC Safety Division Provides Update on Investigation into Deadly House Explosion in Plum Borough, Allegheny County
Published on 8/29/2023
Filed under: Gas
Note: The following information is preliminary and may be supplemented or corrected as the investigation continues.
HARRISBURG – The investigation of a deadly August 12th house explosion in Plum Borough, Allegheny County, by the Safety Division of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) remains active and ongoing, exploring whether public utility infrastructure or operations contributed to the cause and circumstances surrounding this tragic incident.
Plum Investigation Overview
Pipeline safety engineers from the Safety Division, which is part of the PUC’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E), responded to the scene of a reported explosion and house fire at 141 Rustic Ridge Drive in Plum and have continued to gather evidence, analyze data, and monitor testing to determine whether there are any violations of state or federal pipeline safety regulations.
To date, the ongoing Safety Division investigation has included the following:
- Interviewing residents, first responders, Peoples Gas employees and others who witnessed the incident or have relevant information.
- Monitoring testing by Peoples Gas of natural gas mains, service lines and other public utility facilities in the Rustic Ridge Drive neighborhood, including:
- Pressure testing of utility systems.
- Leak surveys and other testing for natural gas readings.
- Odor level testing in the Peoples Gas system.
- The gathering of gas samples for laboratory analysis.
- Purging the Peoples Gas natural gas system before placing it back into service.
- Geophysical testing around the incident site being conducted for Peoples Gas by a third-party expert.
- Working with the fire marshal to access the incident site to identify and recover the gas meter, regulator, service lines and other public utility systems.
- Observing the pressure testing of a PENNECO Oil Company production line behind the incident site and the performance of leak surveys by PENNECO.
Additionally, safety engineers have closely monitored the safe restoration of electric and natural gas service to undamaged homes in the neighborhood. This includes observation of Peoples Gas personnel performing service restoration for customers whose service was shut off because of the incident; testing of valves on service lines and abandon services for structures around the incident site that were damaged and/or condemned; and continued safety checks by Peoples Gas in the Rustic Ridge neighborhood.
Moving forward, the Safety Division continues to review operator records and maps of public utility facilities around the incident site and remains in close communication with the Allegheny County Fire Marshal, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Peoples Gas and other entities involved in the investigation of this incident.
PUC Safety Division Jurisdiction and Investigations
It is important to note that I&E investigations are limited – by regulation – to the involvement of, or impact from, utilities and utility systems under the jurisdiction of the PUC, along with natural gas transported by those assets. I&E does not have jurisdiction to investigate items, events, or piping beyond the outlet of a service meter within a structure – and the interior, non-jurisdictional, assets involved in incidents are the subject of investigation by other parties and agencies outside the PUC.
The Safety Division recognizes the strong public interest in these types of incidents, especially for those who have been directly impacted, and works to address safety concerns in a timely matter. Still, it is important to understand that these are complex circumstances which may require extensive analyses by engineers and other experts, along with laboratory testing and other technical study before conclusions can be reached.
Any determinations and/or actions are based on that information, within the scope of the PUC’s jurisdiction, and any safety concerns identified by investigators are addressed promptly with regulated pipeline operators and/or utilities. While the full investigation by the Safety Division may take up to a year or longer to reach any conclusions, I&E will not hesitate to take immediate action to address health or public safety concerns that are identified.
The Safety Division appreciates the cooperation of Plum Borough and Allegheny County, along with various other local and state emergency agencies who have been part of the investigation, as well as residents and others impacted by this incident.
About the Bureau of Investigation & Enforcement
Engineers from the Safety Division are in the field daily, conducting inspections of utility construction, operations, and integrity management activities. They also investigate issues discovered during their inspections, along with incidents reported by utility operators and emergency response agencies.
I&E, as the independent investigation and enforcement bureau of the PUC, enforces state and federal pipeline safety and motor carrier safety laws and regulations and represents the public interest in ratemaking and service matters before the PUC’s Office of Administrative Law Judge. I&E has the authority to bring enforcement action, seek emergency orders from the Commission or take other steps to enforce safety regulations and promote public safety.