(a) The Commission may promulgate and adopt safety standards for the operation of natural gas pipeline facilities in North Carolina. These safety standards shall apply to the pipeline facilities of gas utilities and pipeline carriers under franchise from the Utilities Commission and to pipeline facilities of other gas operators, as defined in subsection (g) of this section. The Commission shall require that all gas operators file with the Commission reports of all accidents occurring in connection with the operation of their gas pipeline facilities located in North Carolina. The Commission may require that all gas operators file with the Commission copies of their construction, operation, and maintenance standards and procedures, and any amendments thereto, and such other information as may be necessary to show compliance with the safety standards promulgated by the Commission. Where the Commission has reason to believe that any gas operator is not in compliance with the Commission's safety standards, the Commission may, after notice and hearing, order that gas operator to take such measures as may be necessary to comply with the standards. The Commission may require all gas operators to furnish engineering reports showing that their pipeline facilities are in safe operating condition and are being operated in conformity with the Commission's safety standards.
(b) The Commission is hereby authorized to enter into agreements with the United States department of Transportation and other federal agencies and with other states or public utilities commissions of other states for the regulation of natural gas pipelines located within the State of North Carolina and upon the execution of such cooperative agreements, the Commission is authorized to utilize Commission personnel for inspection, investigation, and regulation of safety standards for interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines in North Carolina, and to share in the cost of such regulation with other agencies having duties with respect to the regulation of said natural gas pipelines, and to receive funds from the United States Department of Transportation for such regulation. The Commission may use Commission personnel to inspect and investigate all gas incidents, facilities, and records kept pursuant to the provision of 49 Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 191, 192, and 193, and to cooperate with other state and federal agencies in determining the probable cause or cause or causes of gas incidents. Any information obtained during an investigation of a gas incident shall be reduced to writing and a report containing that information shall be filed with the Chief Clerk of the Commission and the report shall be subject to public inspection but the report shall not be admissible in evidence in any civil or criminal proceeding arising from the incident.
(c) The Utilities Commission is hereby authorized to enter into cooperative agreements for inspection of all natural gas pipelines of North Carolina to the end that the Utilities Commission may enter into agreements with the United States Department of Transportation or other federal or state agencies to regulate and inspect the safety standards for all natural gas pipelines in the State of North Carolina, including interstate natural gas pipelines.
(d) Any person who violates any provision of this section, or any regulation of the Utilities Commission issued thereunder, shall be subject to a civil penalty for each violation for each day that the violation continues. The maximum penalty for each day of a violation and for all the days of a continuing violation may not exceed the maximum penalties that would apply if the penalties had been imposed under 49 U.S.C. Appx. § 1679a(a) by the Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation. Penalties assessed under this subsection shall be credited to the General Fund as nontax revenue.
(e) Any action for civil penalty or any claim for said penalty may be compromised by the Utilities Commission and settled for an agreed amount. In determining the amount of the penalty imposed in civil action, or the amount agreed upon in compromise, the amount of the penalty shall be considered in relation to the size of the business of the person charged, the gravity of the violation, and the good faith of the person charged in attempting to achieve compliance, after any prior notification of a violation. The amount of the penalty, when finally determined in a civil action, or the amount agreed upon in compromise, may be deducted from any sums owing by the State to the person charged, or may be collected as in the case of any judgment in a civil action in the State courts.
(f) The General Court of Justice of North Carolina is authorized to issue court orders, restraining orders, injunctions and other processes of the court in actions by the Utilities Commission to enforce the provisions of this Chapter relating to gas pipeline safety, and the Commission is authorized to bring actions in said court, including actions for mandatory injunctions, restraining orders, temporary restraining orders, penalties, damages and such other relief as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this section and regulations of the Commission duly enacted and adopted hereunder relating to gas pipeline safety. This provision is in addition to other powers of the Commission and the courts in relation to the enforcement of provisions of this Chapter in the courts, and shall not limit the present powers of the Commission in bringing actions in the courts for enforcement of other provisions of this Chapter.
(g) For the purpose of this section, "gas operators" include gas utilities and gas pipeline carriers operating under a franchise from the Utilities Commission, municipal corporations operating municipally owned gas distribution systems, regional natural gas districts organized and operated pursuant to Article 28 of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes, and public housing authorities and any person operating apartment complexes or mobile home parks that distribute or submeter natural gas to their tenants. This section does not confer any other jurisdiction over municipally owned gas distribution systems, regional natural gas districts, public housing authorities or persons operating apartment complexes or mobile home parks. (1967, c. 1134, s. 1; 1969, c. 646; 1971, cc. 549, 1145; 1979, c. 269, s. 1; 1989, c. 481, ss. 1, 2; 1993, c. 189, s. 1; 1997-426, s. 9.)