Investigator: State fines Dominion $500,000

7:20 PM, Jan 24, 2012   |    comments
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COLUMBUS - State inspectors slapped Dominion East Ohio with a $500,000 fine over the gas explosion that ripped through Fairport Harbor a year ago today.

A staff report by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio found that the explosion was caused by a brown, oily fluid that had clogged two low-pressure regulators connected to the company's natural gas lines.

The fluid caused the regulators to fail, which resulted in a "major gas leak" that ignited a series of fires, the report said. Eleven homes were severely damaged and another 150 needed repairs.

In all, there was nearly $1.3 million in property damage in the Lake County town, the report said.  

The cause of the explosion was discovered after the two pressure regulators were sent to an independent laboratory for testing after the explosion, the report said.  

The company found similar fluid during an inspection in October 2010, but the state said Dominion East Ohio never checked to see whether the fluid had seeped into the regulators.

"Staff believes that after (Dominion East Ohio) discovered oil or pipeline fluid ... they should also have disassembled the (low-pressure) regulators and checked for pipeline fluid," the report noted.

The report also said the company did not properly design the regulators in the first place and did not routinely inspect the regulators. In fact, the state said, the company did no inspections of the regulators for the first 10 years after they were installed in 1999.

In addition, the company violated rules by allowing gas pressure to exceed the design specifications of the regulators, the state said.

Dominion East Ohio spokesman Neil Durbin disputed the report and said the fine does not become effective until it is voted on by the PUCO board members.

"We believe we run a safe system and these things happen from time to time," Durbin said. "We have a difference of opinion and we'll be working with the commission to address those issues."

Dominion East Ohio is reviewing all pressure regulating devices in its system to find other regulators that are not properly designed for the pipeline usage, the report said.  

It has already inspected 452 similar regulating systems and found eight that were like the ones that failed in Fairport Harbor.


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