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Press Release

Safety Investigation Following House Explosion in Sewickley Heights, Allegheny County

Published on 12/22/2023

Filed under: Gas

Note: The following information is preliminary and may be supplemented or corrected as the investigation continues.

HARRISBURG – Pipeline safety engineers from the Safety Division of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) – which is part of the Commission’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) – initiated an investigation into the December 12th incident in Sewickley Heights Borough, Allegheny County, which destroyed a home and injured one person. At this point in the investigation, no evidence has been discovered to indicate an unintentional release of gas from Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, Inc.’s (Columbia Gas) facilities.    

Sewickley Heights Investigation Overview

On December 12, 2023, the PUC’s Safety Division was notified of a reported house explosion at 543 Backbone Road in Sewickley Heights and pipeline safety engineers immediately responded to the scene.

While emergency response efforts were still active at the scene, investigators from the Safety Division began gathering preliminary information from responders, utilities, and neighboring residents around that location – a process which is continuing.  The home that was damaged was a secondary cottage structure on the property.

I&E is limiting its investigative efforts at this time as no indications have been discovered of jurisdictional asset involvement. Columbia Gas performed a leak survey with no gas leaks detected, and no other concerns were discovered during the integrity testing of jurisdictional gas facilities. 

Safety engineers will continue to work with the Allegheny County Fire Marshall to review and gather evidence at the scene and the safety team remains in close communication with Columbia Gas as additional data is gathered. The Safety Division appreciates the cooperation of emergency responders and officials from Sewickley Heights and Allegheny County.

PUC Safety Division Jurisdiction and Investigations

The Safety Division’s investigation has been limited at this time as no indications of jurisdictional involvement was discovered.  I&E Safety will continue to gather evidence from Columbia Gas and stands ready to continue the investigation should evidence warrant such actions. 

It is important to note that I&E investigations are limited – by regulation – to the involvement of, or impact from, jurisdictional operators, including utilities, 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.

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.

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