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Ameren Illinois pays fine, makes emergency response ‘adjustments’ after fatal 2016 Canton explosion

221017 Ameren-Canton explosion.jpg
Canton Police Department
A 2016 gas line explosion destroyed the Opera House Professional Center Annex in Canton, killing one person and injuring three others. Without admitting liability, Ameren Illinois agreed to pay a $418,000 fine and undertake "corrective actions" under a penalty agreement with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Ameren Illinois is updating its incident response practices as part of a penalty settlement related to a fatal 2016 gas line explosion in Canton.

Under terms of the February agreement with the Illinois Commerce Commission, Ameren paid a $418,000 civil fine and said it would take additional “corrective actions.” Ameren has not admitted any liability in the explosion that killed one man and injured three others.

A statement from Ameren spokesperson Tucker Kennedy said Ameren welcomed the ICC’s review of its incident response practices, but did not detail any specific actions taken.

“Communication is key in responding to any incident, and in consideration of the ICC review Ameren Illinois has made adjustments to its processes to improve communication practices to employees and emergency personnel,” Kennedy said in the statement.

In response to a request for more clarification regarding the “corrective actions,” Kennedy said Ameren enhanced how they communicate internally and with first responders. He provided three examples, such as emphasizing immediate internal dialogue when an uncontrolled gas emergency is detected; establishing an incident command structure to work with emergency agencies; and prioritizing real-time communication once Ameren field responders complete an initial on-site assessment.

Kennedy also noted Ameren had asked for the ICC to direct the fine money to JULIE, the underground utility line tracking service. But a summary of the penalty agreement shows the ICC denied that request, noting that the Illinois Gas Pipeline Safety Act requires penalties be paid into the State Treasury’s general fund.

The explosion happened on Nov. 16, 2016, at the Opera House Professional Center Annex. According to a National Transportation Safety Board incident report, workers for Sure Shot Communications, contracted by Mid-Century Communications, were drilling near the building for fiber-optic cable installation and struck a natural gas line.

The ICC review of the incident found three violations of federal safety regulations. It said Ameren failed to have up-to-date information on the facility map used by personnel on the scene, did not have a written manual of procedures for conducting maintenance work and for emergency responses, and failed to minimize potential hazards from a gas pipeline emergency.

Kennedy’s statement said Ameren sought to have the fine payments sent to JULIE to support public education efforts to make sure third-party contractors contact the location service prior to any excavation work.

Ameren asks that anyone who smells natural gas call 1-800-755-5000 immediately to report the odor.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.