- Consumers Energy must file with Michigan regulators an explanation for the missed deadlines in more than 20,000 instances of marking underground utility lines in response to pending excavation plans.
- State law requires utilities to respond to a "dig ticket" submitted through the state's MISS DIG 811 system, by the start date and time for the excavation. The PSC says that a staff review shows Consumers "failed to satisfy its statutory obligation" in marking natural gas and electric lines, intended to avoid pipeline accidents.
- The Michigan Public Service Commission ordered Consumers to make a filing by June 28 and appear at a prehearing conference on July 10. The utility acknowledged it has "fallen behind" and vowed to make improvements.
There has been a growing focus on gas pipeline safety following a series of explosions last year, and Michigan regulators say it is essential utilities comply with state laws designed to protect consumers.
"Both state law and the commission’s safety rules require gas and electric utilities as well as communications providers to accurately mark their facilities within a required timeframe," PSC Chairman Sally Talberg said in a statement.
The state's MISS DIG Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act sets out rules for facility owners to respond to excavation announcements. Talberg said "full compliance" from utilities is needed to "protect public safety, maintain the integrity of the MISS DIG process, and keep construction projects on schedule, especially during this busy construction season."
The PSC said its Gas Operations Section staff in April and May tracked Consumers’ responses to requests to mark utility lines, and found "the company failed to act in a timely manner on more than 20,000 requests to mark natural gas and electrical lines and only partially responded to many others."
In a statement to Utility Dive, Consumers said it "acknowledges we have fallen behind in our response" to staking requests, to identify infrastructure. The utility said a "significant increase in staking requests" this spring outmatched the capacity of its two staking contractors "in several metropolitan areas."
Additional internal resources have been deployed and a third contractor "will be ready to assist us soon, and others are being sought to help reduce outstanding requests," Consumers said.
The utility is also re-prioritizing some work to complete staking requests in key areas, and said it is "continually reviewing existing and future workload with staking contractors" to best deploy resources.
There have been concerns about Michigan's aging gas infrastructure, which critics say needs updating. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than half of gas pipelines in the United States were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. The MISS DIG program aims to avoid construction accidents near existing pipelines.
Industry focus on pipeline safety picked up last fall, when a series of explosions in Northern Massachusetts killed one person and destroyed several homes.