Legal Newsline

Monday, August 19, 2019

Ohio Supreme Court rules Columbia Gas of Ohio was right to cut off gas to homes where 'stray' gas a hazard

By Dee Thompson | Oct 19, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) – The Ohio Supreme Court has affirmed orders issued by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) deciding that Columbia Gas of Ohio was right to discontinue service to customers after stray gas was found near their properties.

Katherine Lycourt-Donovan and other property owners who appealed the PUCO ruling asserted that Columbia Gas of Ohio “unlawfully abandoned service and furnished inadequate service,” and the court noted that “both claims lack merit” in its opinion issued Sept. 13.

“Natural gas occurs underground and can migrate into the basement of a home through cracks in the foundation, drain lines, sewer lines, or other conduits," the Supreme Court said.

"If stray gas migrates into a confined area in sufficient concentrations, it can cause a flash fire or explosion when it makes contact with an ignition source. It is undisputed that Columbia Gas’s system is not the source of the stray gas found near the homes owned by appellants and that Columbia Gas has no responsibility to remediate the stray gas."

According to the order, the case goes back to May 2012 when a homeowner on Oakside Road in Toledo noted there were dead plants in the yard, which can mean there is gas present. Columbia Gas conducted tests and found stray gas near the home’s foundation. 

Columbia later disconnected the line serving Oakside Road.

As noted in the court’s opinion, “A natural-gas-in-air mixture in concentrations of 4 to 14 percent can be flammable, so Columbia Gas discontinued natural-gas service to the home while it attempted to determine the nature and source of the stray gas.”

“We are pleased that the court upheld the PUCO's order and recognized that customer safety is paramount,” Cheri Pastula, communications and community relations manager for Columbia Gas of Ohio, told Legal Newsline.

Pastoula also explained that the company is very concerned about safety and explained the safety risks.

“When Columbia Gas finds stray gas near the foundation of a home, service is discontinued for safety reasons. Allowing service to continue when stray gas is found near the foundation of a home presents an unacceptable safety risk.”

Homeowners can actually take steps to minimize gas leak risks, she said.

“They can conduct soil testing before beginning construction. They could also consider reaching out to ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) about the presence of abandoned or active gas wells in the area being developed or purchased. It might be worth talking to water well drillers in an area," Pastoula said.

"It’s not out of the question for natural gas deposits to be discovered during the process of drilling water wells. Also consider asking questions surrounding naturally occurring methane as part of real estate purchase disclosure."

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