Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews responding to a natural gas pipeline rupture in Westminster last month acted appropriately even though they were unable to prevent the resulting explosion, the state Public Service Commission said yesterday.
In an 11-page report released yesterday afternoon, the commission said BGE crews responding to the Jan. 19 rupture in the Autumn Ridge neighborhood took what "appears to be the appropriate action to take in this instance."
BGE crews responded to the 10:38 a.m. gas line strike by 11:25 a.m., and had shut off the gas at 12:01 p.m.
An explosion -- triggered by a spark of a basement sump pump at 90 Sunshine Way -- erupted at 1:18 p.m.
More than 65 other homes were damaged -- 20 of them seriously enough that the families who lived in them have had to seek other shelter.
Total damage estimates from the blast -- in which no one was injured -- have topped $1 million.
Peggy Mulloy, a BGE spokeswoman, declined to comment on the report, saying she had not yet seen it.
The report placed blame for the rupture on an Ellicott City contractor that was laying cable for Prestige Cable Television of Maryland.
It said that the gas lines had been properly marked six days before the rupture.
The report does not place blame for the explosion on anyone.
The report said that Apollo Trenching Co. workers "did not dig over the gas pipe to determine the depth of the pipeline," and, in a preliminary report issued late last month, the PSC said that the trenching company "did not heed the markings" of the gas lines.
While the PSC has the power to cite and fine BGE and the other utilities it regulates, it can do nothing -- criminally or in a civil action -- against Apollo Trenching or any nonutility.
In addition to the Public Service Commission, Maryland Occupational Safety and Health officials have been investigating the incident. They have declined to discuss their inquiry.
BGE also is conducting an investigation into its response to the gas line rupture.
Apollo Trenching Co. is owned by Reid Oliver, an Ellicott City man "in his late 20s," said Leonard C. Redmond III, Mr. Oliver's -- and Apollo's -- lawyer.
Mr. Redmond had not seen a copy of the PSC's final report and declined to comment yesterday on its findings.
In a response to the PSC's preliminary ruling two weeks ago declaring Apollo Trenching at fault for the rupture, Mr. Redmond said that Apollo notified BGE immediately after the gas main was struck.
Mr. Oliver has been involved in the cable-laying business for the past five years or so, and, Mr. Redmond said, he branched out on his own about a year ago.
"He's a hard-working businessman," the lawyer said. "This is no fly-by-night operation here."
The name Apollo isn't found in any official listing of Maryland corporations; Mr. Oliver runs the business as a sole proprietor, and, as such, is not required to be incorporated, Mr. Redmond said.
The name for the company was somewhat of an afterthought, arrived at after Mr. Oliver's business insurance agent asked for a corporate name, Mr. Redmond said.