The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has approved a settlement agreement between its Pipeline Safety Division and Merrillville-based Northern Indiana Public Service Co. Under the terms of the settlement, NIPSCO has agreed to pay $900,000 for past pipeline safety violations, the largest fine in state history.

In addition to the fine, NIPSCO says it will provide information and ongoing reporting to the Pipeline Safety Division and the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor and pay additional civil penalties for future violations. The violations cited in the agreement include NIPSCO’s failure to keep accurate maps and records of its underground facilities as well as failure to locate its pipelines in two days as required by its own safety procedures.

Going forward, NIPSCO must also report performance metrics related to locating its facilities, implement a pipeline safety management system and encourage closer collaboration between the utility and the Pipeline Safety Division in carrying out compliance activities.

"Based on the evidence presented we find the Settlement is in the public interest. Not only does the Settlement address improved communication, development of an enhanced safety culture with compliance consistent with industry best practices and specific violations, it also incorporates a prospective mechanism for assessing future damages," the IURC said in the settlement agreement. "Thus, if NIPSCO achieves specific milestones relative to those damage metrics, NIPSCO should mitigate or eliminate the level of penalties through 2019. Because this settlement aligns the public interest with NIPSCO’s performance to the degree that improved performance leads to fewer or no penalties, the public interest is served through improvements achieved in safety and construction practices."

The IURC says all of the funds collected from the fine will go directly to the state’s General Fund.

"Ensuring the safety of the public, our natural gas system and our employees is the most important responsibility we have," said NIPSCO President Violet Sistovaris. “And, we’re committed to making improvements in the areas identified by the Commission."

NIPSCO says it recently terminated a contract with its previous contracted utility locating company and is working with new companies to improve the timeliness and accuracy of locate requests.