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CenterPoint won’t use propane mix amid investigation into Southern Indiana carbon monoxide leaks

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The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is investigating CenterPoint Energy's records after more than 100 people reported carbon monoxide or gas issues in Southern Indiana Dec, 24 and 25. At least four people were hospitalized.

CenterPoint Energy says it will not mix propane into its natural gas supply while state investigators try to determine what caused multiple reports of carbon monoxide exposure and other gas issues in Southern Indiana on Christmas weekend.

That’s according to an update sent this week by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to state lawmakers who called for the investigation.

In an email obtained by LPM News to Senators Chris Garten and Gary Byrne and Representatives Ed Clere and Rita Fleming, Luke Wilson with the IURC said the commission’s Pipeline Safety Division inspected records at CenterPoint’s Sellersburg facility last week, and will continue to collect information and analyze the findings. They’re also checking the energy company’s liquid propane facility in Jeffersonville to learn more about the incidents.

Fire departments in Clarksville, New Albany and Jeffersonville responded to more than 100 residential and business reports of carbon monoxide and other gas issues starting in the early hours of Dec. 24 and continuing into Christmas Day.

Some people reported symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, while others reported a strange smell, issues with their gas appliances or that their carbon monoxide detectors had alerted.

In some cases, first responders had to turn off utilities and evacuate residents. At least four people were hospitalized.

“We have asked the IURC to investigate what happened and, based on the results of that investigation, to hold any responsible parties fully accountable, including providing appropriate financial compensation to those who were harmed,” according to a statement from the local state lawmakers Dec. 27.

CenterPoint spokesperson Alyssia Oshodi said in a statement to LPM News that same day that at the time of the reports, there was “no indication of issues with CenterPoint Energy’s natural gas system,” which the company said continued to operate safely.

Oshodi said the majority of the reports had been due to improper venting, and that the extreme weather conditions in the region contributed to issues with customers’ appliances.

Wind chills dropped to -20 degrees and below in the days leading up to Dec. 24, and remained below freezing for days afterward.

Oshodi said it has supplemented a propane mix during extreme weather events in the past, “including last year during a similar cold weather event, to help safely and reliably deliver natural gas service to customers in the Clarksville and New Albany areas.”

“As is industry practice, CenterPoint Energy has utilized a propane air mix to supplement natural gas to assist during times of high system demand,” according to the Dec. 27 statement from Oshodi. “The propane-air peak shaving plant which serves a portion of the area has been in service since the 1970s and is regularly monitored and maintained to industry standards.”

The statement did not explicitly say that the propane mix was used during the weekend when incidents were reported.

CenterPoint spokesperson Erin Merris told LPM News in an email Friday afternoon the company “continues to fully cooperate with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in its review of the matter, including meeting with IURC representatives and sharing information about our system operations,” but that they couldn’t provide further comment pending the investigation.

This story was updated with a comment from CenterPoint. 

Reporter Ryan Van Velzer contributed to this report.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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