Pipeline closed, operator gets $100k fine

Company found guilty of 11 violations

This map shows the length of pipeline owned by Pacific Energy & Mining that was ordered to shut down last week after several safety violations were found.
Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Commerce

Chris Parker, director of the Utah Division of Public Utilities, announced Friday, April 12, that an investigation resulted in a Hazardous Facility Order issued against Pacific Energy & Mining (PEMC) April 10 by the Utah Public Service Commission, according to a statement from the Utah Department of Commerce.

The pipeline shutdown will have “no noticeable impact to local residents,” according to Parker, as the pipeline is part of a network of wholesale natural gas pipelines rather than retail.

Parker did say, however, that the incident “stands out a bit,” because, to his knowledge, it is the only gas pipeline shutdown the area has seen in the past five years.

At the request of the division, the PSC ordered the shutdown of PEMC’s natural gas pipeline near Moab, directed the company to cease operations within 60 days, notify affected entities and pay a $100,000 civil penalty to the state, said the department in an email.

Parker said in an interview with The Times-Independent that PEMC could come into compliance within that 60-day window then petition to have the order stayed.

The order resulted from a 2016 inspection by the division’s pipeline safety team, which found numerous operational, emergency, and other violations. After repeated efforts to ensure compliance, the division filed its enforcement action with the commission in April 2018. At the PSC hearing, the division said it proved 11 ongoing violations of state code.

Relevant safety regulations that are enforced by the UPU range from ensuring that natural gas pipeline operators have qualified personnel running equipment, that operators use ample leak detection equipment, and that they have prepared suitable emergency response plans.

Although the pipeline is located in a lightly-populated area, its safe operation is critical to public safety in southern Utah. There are numerous facilities near the pipeline, including the Canyonlands Field Airport, a public campground, as well as constant travel from outdoor recreationists, said the department.

“Natural gas is part of Utah’s economic success and the Division of Public Utilities is committed to minimizing safety risks of natural gas facilities. PEMC’s practices left us with no confidence in its pipeline’s integrity. Though we are aware of no immediate risk to the public, continued operation is a danger to the public until regulators can be assured of safe practices,” said Division Director Chris Parker.

“I’m proud of our pipeline safety team’s work to ensure the safety of all pipelines even when they are located in the state’s more remote areas.”

The PEMC is a 16-inch steel pipeline running 21 miles from PEMC’s processing plant near the intersection of Ruby Ranch Road and Power Line Road to the TD Williams’ pipeline tap near the Archview Resort northwest of Moab.

The division will follow up to confirm the pipeline’s closure, work with PEMC on complying with state law and ensure continuing public safety. In the event of future compliance, the division will also participate in proceedings to remove the commission’s Hazardous Facility Order.