CARSON CITY — State utility regulators on Wednesday approved a $300,000 civil penalty against the Southwest Gas Corp. for two natural gas breaks in Southern Nevada in 2016.
Public Utilities Commission Chairman Joe Reynolds said the penalty for violation of federal pipeline safety regulations is one of the highest assessed against a utility.
PUC staff said one reason for the high fine is that the utility previously had similar incidents when lower penalties were assessed. The high fine is expected to be an incentive for the utility to correct problems that led to the incidents.
The first incident occurred July 26, 2016, when a Southwest Gas crew hit a pipeline with a backhoe, causing the loss of service to 3,520 customers and the evacuation of 30 homes. There were no deaths or injuries.
Southwest Gas retrained several of the employees involved in the incident and conducted formal training on line locating procedures for all of its construction employees.
The cost of the response, property damage and repairs was estimated at $334,000.
The second incident happened Sept. 26, 2016, when a contractor working for the Nevada Department of Transportation hit a high-pressure steel gas main. The stipulation between the PUC and the utility found that Southwest Gas failed to maintain and possess accurate maps of its gas facilities.
The cost of the response was $57,000 with no injuries or deaths. Six customers lost service in the incident.
As part of the agreement, the utility will not seek to recover any costs associated with the two incidents from ratepayers, estimated at just under $400,000. Nor will the utility seek recovery from ratepayers for the backhoe destroyed in the first incident, valued at $80,000.