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Dominion Peoples fined $125,000 in Hempfield gas-line explosion

Dominion Peoples Natural Gas Co. will pay a $125,000 fine to settle a safety violations case with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission stemming from a March 2000 gas-line explosion that damaged several houses in Hempfield Township.

A PUC investigation found that Dominion committed numerous violations of the agency's gas safety regulations, including failure to mark pipelines properly and to train employees properly in its emergency procedures. The commission gave tentative approval to the settlement by a 4-1 vote at its meeting Thursday in Harrisburg.

On March 22, 2000, an excavation crew installing cable television lines for AT&T in the Hempfield Manor section of the township hit a Dominion natural gas line, causing an explosion that destroyed two homes, injured three people and caused the evacuation of 300 residences.

The settlement also included matters related to a March 15, 2000, explosion involving a Dominion line that damaged homes in Industry, Beaver County.

As part of the settlement, the gas company has agreed to implement several safety measures.

According to the PUC, Dominion will implement a program to ensure that all notices of excavation activities are evaluated and completed properly before the excavation date. It also will develop a specific procedure to monitor the accuracy and timeliness of temporary pipeline markings near the excavation site.

The company also has agreed to provide additional training for employees, including contractors responsible for conducting pipeline inspections.

A spokesman for Dominion deferred inquiries to the PUC statement regarding the settlement.

A report on the Hempfield explosion, prepared by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said that mismarked locator lines for underground utilities contributed to the line rupture. The subcontractor for the AT&T Cable Services underground cable project on Patricia Drive told OSHA that locator markings were 10 feet off the actual location of the gas line.

Several lawsuits filed by families whose homes were damaged in the explosion are pending in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court. Dominion and AT&T are among the defendants listed in the lawsuits.

Money from the fine is directed into Pennsylvania's general fund, according to a spokeswoman for the Public Utility Commission.

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