Mo. regulators investigating Plaza gas explosion

By DAVID A. LIEB

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri utility regulators said Wednesday that a fiery explosion at a Kansas City restaurant appears to have occurred after a pipeline was damaged, and that state investigators will examine whether the gas company took proper precautions after a leak was noticed.

Five investigators from the Missouri Public Service Commission are looking into Tuesday evening’s explosion at JJ’s restaurant at the Country Club Plaza, which left one person dead and injured 15 others.

PSC Chairman Kevin Gunn said that based on initial information, gas pipelines were marked — as is required by law — before a contractor started doing underground work in the area. The gas lines are operated by Missouri Gas Energy.

“Preliminary indications are that a pipe was hit and that’s what caused the leak,” Gunn told fellow commissioners during a meeting Wednesday. “From a safety standpoint, that’s an important distinction to make,” because the pipeline does not appear to have failed on its own.

State regulations require gas pipeline operators to immediately investigate reports of leaks. Company employees are to use gas detection equipment when entering a building and are to pay special attention, when investigating outdoor leaks, to conditions that could impair the natural dissemination of the gas into the atmosphere or make it more difficult for gas detection equipment to get a good reading. State regulations say that could include such things as excessive ground moisture, frozen soil or wind.

Missouri’s regulations also require utility companies to establish written procedures for responding promptly to gas pipeline emergencies and for making conditions safe for people and property. Evacuation protocol would be part of those company procedures, said Bob Leonberger, manager of the PSC’s pipeline safety section.

“At this point, our investigation is going to be finding out what happened,” Leonberger said in an interview. He added: “Our main focus is if there were commission rules and regulations violated during the sequence of events.”

Gunn said Missouri Gas Energy reported the explosion to the commission Tuesday night, as regulations required.

It could take up to six months for the PSC to release a final report on the incident. The PSC has authority to make recommendations for policy changes and to pursue fines in court.

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