The New York State Public Service Commission last week accepted a $2.75 million settlement agreement with New York State Electric & Gas Corporation over an enforcement action and alleged violations committed by the company pertaining to its response to a Feb. 2, 2022, gas leak and related fire that occurred at 2592 Carmel Ave., Brewster.
“The commission seeks to ensure that public utilities maintain constant vigilance over their gas distribution systems, with public safety as a paramount concern,” said PSC Chairperson Rory Christian. “The commission holds public utilities responsible for the maintenance and safety of their gas facilities and expects utilities to be ever ready for, and respond promptly and effectively to, incidents such as the Brewster event.”
Following a report of a gas leak in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, 2022, NYSEG employees arriving on scene were the residents’ “last best-chance” of discovering and remediating the natural gas leak before a fire began, according to PSC.
A Department of Public Service staff investigation discovered that these NYSEG employees failed to have proper equipment to effectively respond to the leak and wasted valuable time searching for working equipment.
At about 8:30 a.m., firefighters from Putnam and Westchester were called to battle an inferno at the two-family house just outside the village. First-arriving Brewster firefighters were initially given reports that a mother and son were trapped in the fully-engulfed structure. However, after making several attempts to enter the burning house but being driven back by the intense flames, it was learned that the two escaped before firefighters arrived.
According to the Brewster Fire Department, since the blaze was gas-fed, it was extremely difficult for crews to extinguish it until NYSEG was able to shut off the gas main.
Through investigation, it was determined that NYSEG’s improperly-installed PermaLock tapping tee – a mechanical device used to connect gas distribution pipes together – led to an underground gas leak, which contributed to the fire and ultimately led to the complete destruction of the duplex.
Additionally, it was concluded that NYSEG’s own policies and procedures were inadequate to ensure field staff have the necessary equipment while investigating leaks. An enforcement action commenced, and multiple alleged violations were enumerated in a commission order to show cause.
On Aug. 11, 2022, the commission ordered NYSEG to submit a remediation plan to investigate the installation of similar “tapping tees” and confirm their safe and intended operation (or repair or replace improperly installed devices) in its service territory. On Nov. 17, 2022, the commission approved NYSEG’s sampling and remediation plan. Since then, the company began sampling and investigation efforts, and it is continuing that work.
To resolve the violations alleged in the enforcement proceeding, the commission adopted a settlement agreement whereby NYSEG shareholders will credit gas customers $2.75 million in full satisfaction of all alleged violations relating to the company’s response to the Feb. 2, 2022, incident. The funds shall be used for gas ratepayers’ benefit at the discretion of the commission.
Last week’s decision may viewed at www.dps.ny.gov (case number 22-G-0425).