Salt Lake, UT-Questar Gas is facing a possible $40,000 state fine for its handling of a natural gas leak that resulted in a deadly Saratoga Springs home explosion.
The Utah Division of Public Utilities is recommending the Public Service Commission fine the company based upon its investigation of the February incident that killed April Roper, 24, and veteran Questar Gas technician Larry Radford.
The division contends Questar Gas violated state and federal safety standards and its own procedures by failing to make sure the house was clear of natural gas before Roper was allowed to enter her home.
“An effective response would have determined the presence of gas in the house prior to the explosion,” the division wrote in an Aug. 6 letter to Questar that notified the utility of its plans to seek the fine. “An effective response would have not permitted Mrs. Roper to enter the house until there had been a definitive documented finding that the house was safe.”
The sequence of events leading up to the explosion began around 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 6 when a company laying a phone line to the Roper home struck and ruptured a Questar gas line on the property. The broken 2-inch line pumped nearly 9,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the ground around the home.
Once the line was repaired, Questar’s Radford allowed Roper to accompany him back into the home to relight the furnace. An explosion leveled the home minutes later, sending a family-room couch to land on a neighbor’s roof more than 100 feet away.
Roper’s husband, Greg, has filed a lawsuit against Questar in 3rd District Court claiming the utility and the companies involved in laying the phone line were grossly negligent for causing the leak and then failing to properly repair the break and safely clear the area.
That lawsuit is now in the discovery phase, said Colin King, a Salt Lake City attorney who is representing Roper in the lawsuit.
Questar Gas spokesman Daren Shepherd termed the request that the utility be fined for the incident as premature.
“The investigation [Questar’s] is still under way and there is litigation that is still pending,” Shepherd said.
A few days after receiving a copy of the state’s “Pipeline Failure Investigation Report,” Questar’s attorneys went to the PSC asking that documents attached to the report as evidence be kept confidential.
The PSC granted Questar’s request until representatives from the state and the company can get together to review the documents.
“As I understand it, those documents have information such as the names and addresses of Questar employees and even autopsy photos that we believe aren’t relevant to this particular case,” Shepherd said.
The PSC has yet to set a date to discuss the evidence that may be confidential with Questar or a date for a hearing on the division’s request.