A gas utility has agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and speed replacement of its cast-iron pipelines following an eastern Pennsylvania gas explosion that killed five people two years ago.
UGI Utilities Inc. President Robert Beard agreed to the state Public Utility Commission's order in a letter Monday that expressed "heartfelt sympathies'' to the victims.
The Easton-Times says the order requires the Reading, Pa.-based company to replace all cast-iron pipelines within 14 years and expand testing and monitoring.
Commission officials, in their proposal to modify the settlement -- including boosting the civil fine from $386,000 to the maximum allowed by law at the time of the explosion -- called the company's record of safety compliance "patently unacceptable."
"This is the eighth time in slightly more than four years that this commission has adjudicated a matter containing allegations of gas safety violations by a UGI-owned gas distribution utility," they said last month. "This goes beyond cause for concern; it is downright alarming."
UGI earlier said it had accelerated the replacement of gas pipelines made of cast iron and bare steel with new lines made of high-density plastic and coated steel.
"The UGI Companies know that it is our responsibility to safely and reliably serve customers," Beard's letter said. "UGI is committed to proactively managing and addressing the many significant operational challenges that confront natural gas distribution businesses generally and ours in particular."
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski told the newspaper that he was glad UGI agreed to the state order but feels the pipeline replacement should be even faster and should start in his city.
"My hope is UGI will do what's right by the community and fix this at a much more accelerated rate before another tragedy occurs," Pawlowski said.
The father of a baby killed in the blast settled a wrongful-death claim against UGI Utilities Inc. last fall. Terms of the agreement between the utility and Steven Vega, the father of 4-month-old Matthew Vega, were not released.
Copyright Associated Press / NBC 10 Philadelphia