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Patrick Springer, Published January 31 2009

North Dakota Public Service Commission grants extension for testing plastic pipe

North Dakota regulators on Friday granted a 30-day extension for testing of plastic pipe blamed for a Fargo house explosion last fall that injured five people.

The action by the Public Service Commission means results from the pipe, which was found to have a pinhole-sized leak, should be available in late February, Commissioner Kevin Cramer said.

Xcel Energy, the utility that provides natural gas and electricity to Fargo, has blamed the pipe failure on a material defect, but the exact cause cannot be determined without testing.

Meanwhile, the $5,300 cost of the lab tests must be borne by the Public Service Commission. Xcel, if later found to have violated safety rules, could be assessed and fined if that were determined, he said.

Establishing fault for the

Sept. 2 explosion, however, likely would be determined through court proceedings, Cramer said.

The delays in testing were partly due to the involvement of lawyers representing the family, and the utility, commissioners said.

Cramer and fellow Commissioner Tony Clark are disappointed the Senate rejected a bill proposed by the PSC that would make utilities, regulated monopolies, pay such costs, as is the case in other states.

Commissioners should carry out a public education campaign so lawmakers and others know that utilities, not taxpayers, should bear costs such as testing following a pipeline explosion, Clark said.

Officials in other states are surprised by the law in North Dakota assessing taxpayers, not utilities, he said.

“They sort of laugh that we haven’t come to the conclusion that just about everybody has,” Clark said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522