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$2.3 million safety penalty

11 January 2010

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has levied a $2.3 million record civil penalty against El Paso Corporation, owner of the largest U.S. network of natural-gas pipelines, and its subsidiary Colorado Interstate Gas Company for violations of federal pipeline safety regulations.

$2.3 million safety penalty
$2.3 million safety penalty

The DOT also ordered the companies to take specific actions to comply with its regulations and ensure safety as a result of its investigation into a natural gas pipeline explosion that killed a construction worker, who struck the line with a bulldozer, in November 2006. The Department will hold pipeline operators accountable for the safety of those who live and work in the vicinity of their systems and negligence will not be tolerated.

The accident investigation conducted by the Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) discovered the companies did not comply with federal regulations covering the locating and marking of buried pipeline facilities. Federal regulations require pipeline operators to establish and follow procedures for properly locating and marking their underground systems before excavation work is commenced to prevent accidental contact and safety risks.
The fine is the largest ever levied against a pipeline company by the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. El Paso said it would comply with the order, which also includes requirements to revise procedures for making construction records and maps available and to improve training for managers.

Despite agreeing to pay the fine El Paso doesn’t agree with all of the government’s findings, as the "complexity of the facts" of the explosion weren’t all considered. It essentially fails to take into account the serious errors of the constructing pipeline company and its contractors.

On Nov. 11, 2006, a 36-inch natural gas transmission pipeline owned by Wyoming Interstate Company, Ltd. and operated by Colorado Interstate Gas Company, both subsidiaries of El Paso Corporation, was struck by a bulldozer. At the time of the accident, the bulldozer operator was attempting to grade nearby land to build a right of way for the Rockies Express Pipeline. The contact with the high pressure line resulted in the release of natural gas, a subsequent explosion and fire, and the operator's death.

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