Energy & Environment

PUC finds Vermont Gas violated rules with 2016 blast

A sign alerts drivers and residents to Vermont Gas pipeline construction work in Williston. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

Vermont Gas was out of compliance with regulations when it blasted along the route of the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline in June 2016, a regulatory panel says. 

In a ruling issued Thursday, the Public Utility Commission denied Vermont Gas’ request to dismiss a case that alleged the company failed to comply with requirements with a blast in Monkton in June 2016.

The commission concluded that the company violated both its final order and certificate of public good by failing to provide adequate notice of the blast, failing to exercise the industry standard in its oversight of the blast, and failing to appropriately document blasting during the construction of the pipeline.

The June 2016 blast along the Monkton section of the pipeline caused debris and rock to “escape” from underneath blast mats and into the nearby property of Kristin Lyons. A little over a year later, Vermont Gas notified the PUC that it had settled with Lyons for $10,000 plus legal fees. 

Lyons said it wasn’t so much that Vermont Gas didn’t notify her about the blast, just that they did it at the wrong time. She said on May 31, she got a 24-hour notification about a forthcoming blast — which didn’t end up coming until June 20. 

She said though she wasn’t home when it happened, she was “pretty shocked” when she got the call.

“In terms of safety, I was not expecting anything blasted adjacent to my property at that time,” Lyons said. “That’s a major safety concern

She said after the blast, she contacted her attorney right away, who she had been working with for several years to oppose the pipeline passing through her property. (It was ultimately rerouted across the street.)

“I have to have faith in the system that if I’m going to be living within 1,500 feet of this pipeline that Vermont Gas and the Department of Public Service are adhering to the [certificate of public good],” Lyons said.

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Throughout their mediation process, Lyons withdrew three of her eight allegations against the company, with the remaining five — related to the company’s failure to use required procedures — sent back to the PUC.

The commission found that neither the facts offered by the company nor its arguments “gave rise to a genuine dispute of any material fact” about the blasting incident or the company’s oversight of the blasting during construction of the pipeline.

It therefore ruled that even accepting all of Vermont Gas’s assertions, and “giving it the benefit of all reasonable doubts and inferences,” the facts of the case showed that the company failed to provide sufficient notice of the blast or efficiently oversee or document the blasting process. Because of that, the company violated the 2013 certificate of public good and final order. 

Vermont Gas contracted Maine Drilling and Blast to develop and perform the blasting work for the pipeline. Vermont Gas spokesperson Beth Parent said Maine D&B has extensive expertise doing this kind of work in Vermont.

“We’re disappointed in the finding that our contractor fell short in that,” Parent said. 

But she said the company’s primary concern is always safety, and they were glad to see that the state agreed that their blasting plan was executed safely.

“This project was a major undertaking,” Parent said. “And we’re proud to have executed construction — including blasting — safely and efficiently to Addison County.”

The PUC ruling directed the parties to develop a schedule for the rest of the process so as to determine the appropriate civil penalty in the case.

“I’m very pleased with that,” Lyons said. “It’s a small victory, but an important one.”

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Ellie French

About Ellie

Ellie French is a general assignment reporter and news assistant for VTDigger. She is a recent graduate of Boston University, where she interned for the Boston Business Journal and served as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press, BU’s student newspaper. She is originally from Duluth, Minnesota.

Email: [email protected]

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