CenterPoint admits fault for December carbon monoxide issues in Southern Indiana
CenterPoint Energy has admitted fault for operations that led to more than 100 reports of carbon monoxide and other gas issues in Southern Indiana starting early Dec. 24. They’re asking impacted customers to contact them with any concerns about natural gas appliances.
The company released a statement Tuesday based on findings by Standby Systems, Inc, which CenterPoint brought in to investigate the incidents. CenterPoint’s investigation was done in conjunction with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s (IURC) Pipeline Safety Division. The IURC has not finalized its review, but a spokesperson said they will include CenterPoint's findings.
“Our investigation’s findings determined that there was an incorrect mixture of gas at our facility,” CenterPoint said in the statement. “A disproportionate amount of propane had been added into our natural gas system and, as such, contributed to the reports of carbon monoxide in the three communities. We regret that our initial indications were incorrect and accept responsibility for the error.”
The company said it has ceased operations at its Jeffersonville propane plant through the end of 2023 as the company assesses the facility’s future.
“Based on our review, there are no signs that any incorrect mixture remains in our system,” according to the Tuesday statement.
In an email Wednesday, CenterPoint spokesperson Erin Morris told LPM News that there were “a number of factors” that contributed to the incorrect mixture, and that the company “will continue to assess our operations and take appropriate corrective actions to prevent incidents like this in the future.”
In a Dec. 27 statement, another CenterPoint spokesperson told LPM News the majority of reports the company responded to were due to improper ventilation and appliances stressed by the cold and that there was “no indication of issues with CenterPoint’s natural gas system,” which they said continued to operate safely.
The company’s initial statement also said it had used a propane mix during previous cold weather events in Southern Indiana. Wind chills dipped below minus 20 degrees on Christmas weekend.
“As is industry practice, CenterPoint Energy has utilized a propane air mix to supplement natural gas to assist during times of high system demand,” the spokesperson said in the Dec. 27 statement. “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.”
Merris said the Jeffersonville air propane facility was operating Dec. 23-24, but that they stopped operations while they investigated carbon monoxide calls in the area. The company’s other propane air facilities “will continue to be operated as needed, with routine inspection and maintenance taking place.”
CenterPoint confirmed to the IURC last month the company would not use the propane mix pending the investigation results.
Clarksville Fire Chief Brandon Skaggs previously told LPM News the department responded to more than 100 reports of carbon monoxide and other gas issues starting around 3 a.m. Dec. 24, with calls stretching into the following day. The reports were primarily from the South Clarksville area, and at least four people were hospitalized.
There were also reports from New Albany customers. Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said Wednesday that based on talks with the city’s fire and police departments, he’s not aware of any reports from customers there. However, CenterPoint lists Jeffersonville as one of the three areas impacted.
“We would like to extend our sincere apologies to those who were affected by carbon monoxide issues in their homes and businesses following the events that occurred in our natural gas service areas of Clarksville, New Albany and Jeffersonville, Ind. on Dec. 24. The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our top priority.”
In a Tuesday statement, Clarksville Town Manager Kevin Baity said town officials were encouraged that there are answers and commended CenterPoint for working to determine the cause and prevent it from happening again.
Last week, CenterPoint asked customers to supply any invoices, estimates or photographs related to damages. Merris said if a customer has already contacted CenterPoint with a related concern, the company will follow up with them by phone.
Customers who have not contacted the company but have concerns about the condition or operation of their natural gas appliances can email CenterPoint Energy at email@example.com or 713-207-7724.
Reporter Ryan Van Velzer contributed to this story.
Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.