NTSB removes PA Public Utilities Commission as party to R.M. Palmer gas explosion investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday it has removed the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission as a party to the investigation into the March 24 natural gas–fueled explosion and fire at Building 2 of the R.M. Palmer plant in West Reading, Pennsylvania.

The NTSB said the Pennsylvania PUC violated the terms of the agency’s party agreement by not providing unredacted inspection and investigation reports of UGI Utilities, Inc., the natural gas pipeline operator whose assets were involved in the gas explosion. Consequently, the NTSB has issued a subpoena to the PUC to obtain the reports from UGI.

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The NTSB has used the party system for decades as part of the agency’s investigative process, which allows the sharing of factual investigative information during the early phases of an investigation. This sharing of information is critical to a comprehensive and efficient investigation and ensures a party to an investigation has sufficient information to take any immediate actions necessary to ensure safety. 

The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission was designated as a party to this investigation based on its oversight of UGI as a jurisdictional natural gas pipeline operator in Pennsylvania, and because the PUC could provide suitable qualified technical personnel who could actively assist in the NTSB investigation.

According to the NTSB, applicable Federal regulations expressly authorize them to inspect any records related to an accident investigation and obligate a party to an NTSB investigation to provide any requested information related to the accident or incident. As a party, the PUC was required to comply with these regulations. 

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By not providing the requested information to the NTSB, they say PUC has not met its obligations as a party to the investigation as codified in federal law. The inability to access and review unredacted documents may compromise the accuracy and completeness of the investigation. The NTSB has therefore revoked the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission’s party status.

NTSB letter to the Pennsylvania PUC can be found online

Update: The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission responded Monday, stating the NTSB has repeatedly refused PAPUC options to review Confidential Security Information, which is protected under Pennsylvania State Law. Read the full statement here: PA Public Utility Commission responds to actions of NTSB regarding investigation of R.M. Palmer explosion

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