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Janell Cole, Published January 01 2009

PSC contracts with lab to study Fargo blast

BISMARCK – A California lab will get the contract to test a natural gas pipe blamed for a Sept. 2 house explosion in Fargo that injured five people.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission voted Wednesday to hire CRT Laboratories Inc. of Orange, Calif., to test the “steel riser with a Dupont-Adyl plastic pig-tail” fused to three feet of plastic Century pipe.

Xcel Energy, which supplies natural gas to Fargo customers, said after the blast that it found a pinhole-sized gas leak in the underground service line at a coupling, which allowed gas to migrate into the house.

The company blames the pipe failure on a material defect but said an exact cause can’t be determined without expert testing.

The state is shipping the suspect portion of the pipe to the lab but other costs will be paid by Xcel, according to an e-mail from Xcel’s assistant general counsel to the PSC’s director of testing and safety.

The PSC official, Al Moch, said the test will examine whether the pinhole resulted from brittle pipe, stress caused by improper installation or an improperly installed fusion. It was manufactured by Century Utility Products in 1972. Xcel is replacing all the Century pipe in North Dakota by 2010.

Once the lab receives the pipe section, it will have 15 working days to complete the work, according to the contract.

According to e-mails between Moch and Xcel, attorneys who are representing the injured family in a lawsuit will have their own experts witness the testing.
Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net