Duke Energy required to pay $500,000 fine following townhouse explosion

LEBANON, OH (FOX19) - Duke Energy is required to pay $500,000 fine following a townhouse explosion in Lebanon.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved an agreement on Wednesday for Duke Energy to pay the hefty fine in addition to taking steps to improve compliance with natural gas pipeline safety standards.

The penalties stem from a November 2010 townhouse explosion at the Steeplechase Townhomes in the 800 block of Franklin Rd. Two victims suffered severe burns and five others suffered smoke inhalation. Three buildings and 22 units were damaged causing an estimated $1 million in property damage.

"The fine assessed today reflects the magnitude of the 2010 explosion in Lebanon and demonstrates that natural gas pipeline safety is a responsibility we take seriously," PUCO Chairman Todd Snitchler stated. "Going forward, we expect that Duke will continue to fulfill the commitments outlined in the agreement and work to reduce the likelihood that this type of incident occurs in the future."

PUCO investigators inspect each natural gas pipeline system in the state at least once every two years. Investigators also review records and procedures implemented by utilities. If violations are detected, PUCO orders corrective action to ensure the safe and reliable delivery of natural gas.

The investigation by PUCO found that Duke's contractor, Scope Services, Inc., failed to properly reestablish gas service and failed to investigate when a resident of the townhouse reported the smell of gas. Hours later, the townhouse exploded when the resident attempted to light a cigarette.

Duke has modified its operation and maintenance procedures in compliance with PUCO rules as part of the agreement. The company also agreed to re-qualify all company and contractor personnel on procedures for reestablishing gas service.

Duke Energy must pay the fine to the Ohio General Revenue Fund within 10 business days.

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