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State proposes pipeline safety fines

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By Savvy Raines

State utility regulators proposed penalties of $180,000 for three major natural gas utilities - Citizens Gas, Northern Indiana Public Service Company and Vectren - for multiple pipeline safety violations.

The violations are primarily for companies' failure to follow written procedures and keep accurate records, according to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission's Pipeline Safety Division. The fines come after a 2010 pipeline explosion in California that brought more attention to safety issues.

"The explosion that occurred in San Bruno, Calif. was a tragic wake up call," said IURC Chairman Jim Atterholt. "The commission will continue to do everything in its power to be vigilant in enforcing current pipeline safety standards."

Intrastate pipelines, operated and maintained by these companies, are regulated by the pipeline safety division, which works to ensure compliance federal rules and regulations. In the case of a violation, the Pipeline Safety Division investigates the matter and may penalize companies based on the infraction.

The violations and respective penalties for each operator are identified below:

* Citizens Gas, failure to follow written procedures, $30,000
* NIPSCO, failure to follow written procedures, $55,000
* NIPSCO, failure to keep accurate records, $20,000
* Vectren, failure to follow written procedures, $40,000
* Vectren, failure to keep accurate records, $35,000
The violations are failures by each operator to follow procedures and maintain up-to-date maps and records of their underground facilities, state officials said.

In addition, these failures resulted in either mislocating or not locating pipelines in accordance with Indiana's "Call Before You Dig" laws.

Each operator is subject to a monetary fine, as well as additional compliance actions. The number of instances and the severity of the probable violations will determine the penalties and recommended actions given to each operator.

The operators will have an opportunity to contest the violations and proposed penalties in a hearing before the IURC before the said penalties go into effect. In lieu of a hearing, the operator may accept the proposed penalty and take necessary action in order to be compliant with both federal and state rules.

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