Accepting Responsibility: Consumers Energy Redoubles Already Stringent Safety Program After Explosion

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | May 2013, Vol. 68 No. 5
Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy vice president of energy delivery

On Feb. 27, the drill head of a horizontal directional drilling (HDD) machine clipped a 5/8-inch gas line in a residential neighborhood of Royal Oak, MI. Escaping gas migrated to a nearby home and soon after the drilling crew left for the day, the gas ignited, destroying one home and killing its owner.

About a dozen nearby dwellings were damaged, displacing families who lived in them.

The following day the article in the local newspaper, the Macomb Daily, quoted a press release from Consumers Energy, the area’s gas service provider, expressing sympathy to family and friends of the victim, Daniel Malczynski, and stating that Consumers Energy was cooperating with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and other regulatory agencies in the investigation to determine the cause of the incident.

“Preliminary testing has determined that a gas service line to the house was damaged and was the possible cause of the explosion,” said the press release.

Soon after, the gas provider announced it had suspended directional drilling operations throughout the state and emphasized in the public statement that the safety of the community is the top priority of Consumers Energy. Details about the cause of the incident would be released when the investigation was complete.

Those details came surprisingly quick.

A week after suspension of drilling activities were announced, Consumers Energy publicly accepted responsibility for the accident. The drilling unit that struck the gas line was owned and operated by Consumers Energy, owner of the gas line.

“Based on our findings to date,” said a company press release dated March 15, “we have taken appropriate disciplinary action, including terminations for failure to follow established policies and procedures. We take our responsibility to protect our communities, customers and employees very seriously and are committed to a zero tolerance policy when it comes to their safety. With this commitment in mind, we continue to be vigilant and proactive in taking steps to reassure the public.”

After completing its detailed review and validation of standard operating procedures with employees and contractors working on Consumers Energy’s system, directional drilling operations resumed the following week. Mary Palkovich, executive manager of gas assets, told the Macomb Daily that directional drilling is no more dangerous than other means of setting pipe.

“It’s only more dangerous if the excavator who’s using the tool doesn’t follow the rules,” she said.