Public Utility Commission Looks for Pipeline Violations

Yellow caution tape stretched May 27 across a Pottstown neighborhood street (at top) warns passers-by that a gas line is buried beneath the asphalt

HARRISBURG PA – Pipeline safety engineers who work for Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission are trying to determine “whether there are any violations of state or federal pipeline safety regulations” involved in the May 26 (2022) explosion of homes at the corner of Hale Street and Butler Avenue in Pottstown, the commission said Thursday (June 2).

Engineers from the commission’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement have been part of the team of borough, county, state, and federal officials investigating the blast since it occurred, its statement noted. “While firefighting and recovery efforts were still active at the scene,” bureau employees began “gathering preliminary information from residents, responders, and utilities around that location,” the commission added.

Authorities have not yet issued findings on the cause of the explosion, which leveled two properties and significantly damaged others. Five people – four of them young children – died in the incident, and two other adults were injured. Additionally, several families were displaced because the borough advised they can no longer occupy their properties due to structural issues.

As of Thursday, borough inspectors indicated they may soon increase the number of homes considered to be “uninhabitable.”

Property owners and others in the area regularly reported smelling the odor of gas during what they claimed were lengthy periods before the explosion. PECO Energy has gas lines in the surrounding neighborhood, but said the properties directly involved in the incident were not connected to its system.

The commission investigation “is active and ongoing,” it said, and its engineers are working “closely with other agencies.” Although the commission recognized what it called “the strong public interest in these types of incidents, especially for those who have been directly impacted,” it also cautioned that finding answers may take substantial time.

“These are complex circumstances which may require extensive analyses by engineers and other experts, along with laboratory testing and other technical study before conclusions can be reached,” the commission said. “The full investigation may take up to a year or longer to reach any conclusions,” it reported.

Even so, it pledged the bureau “will not hesitate to take immediate action to address health or public safety concerns that are identified.” The bureau “has the authority to bring enforcement action, seek emergency orders from the commission, or take other steps to enforce safety regulations and promote public safety,” it stated.

Photo by The Post