June 18, 2004
A judge may have to settle a dispute between Mesa and the Arizona Corporation Commission, a city official said Thursday.
The commission wants the city to inspect thousands of steel pipes in its natural gas system for corrosion.
Gerald Paulus, director of the city’s natural gas utility, said the inspections will be time consuming and costly but will not increase public safety. He accused the commission of needlessly driving up costs for gas customers.
"They’re in business to regulate, and that’s what they’re doing," Paulus said.
Heather Murphy, a spokeswoman for the commission, said Mesa is refusing to do something that other natural gas companies have to do. The issue isn’t about regulation, but public safety, she said.
"We know the potential is there for a problem," Murphy said.
Officials have said the worst-case scenario is an explosion due to corroded natural gas lines, but that possibility is very remote.
Paulus strongly denied the public is at risk.
The city has drafted a letter to the U.S. Office of Pipeline Safety in Washington, D.C., asking it to overrule the commission. Paulus said the letter probably won’t be sent for another 30 days because the commission and the city can’t agree on the wording. In the meantime, Paulus said the city may ask a judge or elected members of the commission to intervene.
Murphy said the issue would go to an administrative law judge at the commission if the city does not comply.
In February, the commission ordered the city to check steel pipes providing natural gas to nearly 9,000 homes and businesses. Agency officials wanted the city to verify that a low electrical voltage was present on each pipe. The city contends it has been adhering to a federal rule calling for 10 percent of the lines to be inspected periodically, and offered to double that percentage.
Low voltage is one of several methods used to protect pipes. The agency ordered the checks after it found a pipe that didn’t have the proper voltage during the 2004 inspection and audit of Mesa’s natural gas utility.