Safety Investigation Ongoing Following December Incident in Philadelphia
Published on 1/16/2020
Filed under: Gas
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) – are continuing their investigation into a late-December incident in Philadelphia which resulted in two deaths and severe damage to several homes.
On December 19, 2019, pipeline safety engineers responded to the scene of a reported explosion and house fire in the 1400-block of South 8th Street in Philadelphia.
While firefighting and recovery efforts were still active at the scene, investigators from the Safety Division began gathering preliminary information from residents, responders, and utilities around that location. Additionally, engineers closely monitored the temporary shut-off of natural gas service to homes and buildings around the incident site, to safeguard emergency responders.
During the days immediately following the incident, after initial fire and rescue activities had concluded, safety engineers conducted a more detailed investigation at the site – working with the Philadelphia Office of Fire Marshall and an accident investigation team from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
After the incident scene had been stabilized, investigators monitored the excavation of nearby natural gas lines by crews from Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW). Two PGW natural gas pipelines were located in the street immediately in front of the damaged buildings, and a crack/break was identified in a 6-inch cast iron gas main. The investigation also gathered details regarding recent water and wastewater work performed on the street in the vicinity of the explosion.
Detailed interviews with gas company employees and other parties were conducted in the days following the incident, and the safety division also observed the collection of physical jurisdictional evidence at the scene, including mains and service lines, while also investigating the location of other nearby facilities. Additionally, the Safety Division monitored the restoration of natural gas and electric service to customers in undamaged buildings in the surrounding neighborhood.
Note: While the Safety Division has jurisdiction over electric and natural gas service in Philadelphia, the operation of municipal water and wastewater services by the Philadelphia Water Department are outside the jurisdiction of the PUC.
The investigation by the Safety Division is active and ongoing, exploring the cause and circumstances surrounding this incident, along with whether there are any violations of state or federal pipeline safety regulations. The Safety Division has worked closely with the Fire Marshall and other agencies during the emergency response and initial stages of the investigation and will carefully consider any additional information from the Fire Marshall as the broader safety investigation continues.
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 require extensive analysis by engineers and other experts, along with laboratory testing and other technical study, before conclusions can be reached.
While the full investigation 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 Philadelphia emergency officials, PHMSA and various other local, state and federal emergency agencies who were part of the response, along with 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 ensure public safety.
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