State commission says abandoned gas line caused Seattle blast, wants to fine PSE $3.2M

SEATTLE --  Most business owners were shocked Tuesday to hear that an abandoned gas line that was never turned off caused the massive Greenwood explosion in March.

The blast injured nine firefighters, destroyed three businesses and damaged dozens more.

Just hours after the explosion destroyed three buildings he owned, Mike Slattery suspected Puget Sound Energy was at fault.

“When the gas line was dug up, it was very clear at that point,” Slattery said.

On Tuesday, the Utility and Transportation Commission confirmed Slattery’s suspicions.  UTC says PSE failed to properly disconnect and seal an abandoned gas line in 2004, leaving the line unchecked nearly 12 years before the explosion in March.

“That’s unfortunate that’s everyone’s fear that there is infrastructure there that is not being tended to,” Rosewood Guitar owner Bill Clements said.

Clements has since repaired the broken glasses at his store but many businesses are still fighting insurance companies to get coverage for their damages.

Slattery says he was not aware that an abandoned gas line even existed between two of his buildings.

UTC says the line ran between Mr Gyros and Neptune Coffee. They say people who were not authorized to use the area outside the businesses disrupted the gas line, leading to the blast.

UTC would not identify the people responsible but some who live and work in Greenwood say homeless people often used the area. UTC says the leaking gas accumulated inside Mr. Gyros, causing the explosion. Residents and business owners say the community was lucky the blast happened overnight and not during a time when it’s bustling with people.

“Hopefully PSE will take responsibility and take care of the businesses that suffered from this,” Clements said.

Andy Wappler with PSE released this statement:  “The proposed fine from the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) staff is disappointing and excessive. All parties investigating the March incident, including the UTC and the Seattle Fire Department, agree: the natural gas system at the Greenwood site was damaged by unauthorized individuals in a space not intended for human activity, with the resulting gas leak causing the explosion and fire. While we disagree with the UTC staff’s conclusions and recommended fine, we’re committed to the safety of our customers and the community and will continue to review the report as we prepare for final disposition of this investigation by the UTC commissioners.”

Slattery said, “Still PSE wanted to make arguments that a homeless person was responsible for it versus leaving the gas lines intact and not capping them when they were supposed to."

Business owners are now worried about other abandoned gas lines and the state is asking PSE for more records.

“Requiring Puget Sound Energy to identify other abandoned gas lines to make sure they were correctly abandoned,” UTC spokesperson Anna Gill said.

UTC says PSE’s failure has resulted in 17 violations and they say their commissioners will hold a hearing to decide if the $3.2 million fine should be imposed. If PSE is fined that amount, the money will go to the state’s program that ensures pipeline safety.