ONG reaches settlement with Corporation Commission over house explosion

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma Natural Gas has agreed to pay $1,010,000 to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for their part in a house explosion on January 2.

The settlement was announced at a judicial hearing Wednesday morning.

The home in the Walnut Creek addition in northwest Oklahoma City exploded in the middle of the night with a man asleep inside.

He survived the blast.

It also injured an elderly couple next door and damaged dozens of homes.

The cause of the explosion was a natural gas leak in a faulty weld joint in the pipeline.

Neighbors had called the gas company complaining of the odor that night, but nothing was done before the house exploded.

In their investigation, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission found the company was negligent in investigating that leak and eight previous leaks in that same area.

Michael Boyd’s grandparents are the elderly couple who lived next door to the house that exploded.

His grandparents and the man who lived in the house that exploded have both settled individual lawsuits with ONG.

But, he feels the fine by the Corporation Commission is nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

“For a massive corporation like Oklahoma Natural Gas, a million dollar fine is like a thumb prick. It’s not a fine. They won’t blink an eye at that,” Boyd said. “Honestly, a million dollar fine is laughable really.”

Under the settlement, the company will also complete remedial action they began after the explosion.

“We will be doing a systematic review expected to be completed by the end of the year of all pipelines similar to this,” said Cherokee Ballard, Communications Manager for Oklahoma Natural Gas. “We also really want to stress to customers that safety is our top priority and that we apologize for this incident. We have taken full responsibility for what happened in January.”

The fine leveled against ONG is the maximum allowed under a state statute.

The Corporation Commission also said the fine will not be passed on to the rate payers.

“They have agreed that there will be no attempt to recover that through any future rate making action,” said Patricia Franz, Director of the Transportation Division at the Corporation Commission.

“The system is safe, and safety is our top priority,” Ballard said.

Boyd said he’d like more than just words from the company.

“If they want the public to trust them, they want us to trust them, they need to prove it. Show us something. Telling us is doing absolutely squat,” Boyd said.

None of that fine will go to affected homeowners.

It goes to the Corporation Commission.

The settlement still has to be approved by the corporation commissions, and that could happen as early as next month.

The administrative law judge recommended approval of the settlement.

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