Hogsett Announces Guilty Plea In Connection With Testing Of A Natural Gas Pipeline
Indianapolis – Joseph H. Hogsett, the United States Attorney, announced today that Eric L. Barnes, age 48, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Southern District of Indiana for making false statements in connection with the testing of pipeline welds at a natural gas pipeline compressor station Bainbridge, IN.
“We know all too well the devastation natural gas explosions can cause,” said Steven D. DeBrota, Senior Litigation Counsel for the United States Attorney’s Office. “Maintaining the integrity of our natural gas lines is important to keeping Hoosiers safe.”
The defendant was employed as a Level II Radiograph Technician and from June through October 2008, was responsible for testing pipeline welds at a compressor station under construction in Bainbridge, IN. The process involved taking an x-ray of the weld and creating a report indicating whether the weld was acceptable. On five different occasions, the defendant created a report confirming that certain pipe welds had been tested and were approved when he had not confirmed that the welds had actually been tested. On these occasions, multiple pictures of one weld had been taken and marked with separate identification numbers, to make it appear that the x-ray was of different pipe welds, when only one weld had actually been x-rayed.
The Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) has jurisdiction over interstate natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Pipeline safety requires nondestructive testing of pipeline welds to confirm the integrity and sufficiency of the welding process. The results of the testing must be maintained for the life of the pipeline.
“This investigation demonstrates our commitment to maintaining the safety and integrity of the nation’s pipelines,” said Michelle T. McVicker, regional Special Agent-In-Charge of the United States Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General. “Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial colleagues, we will continue our vigorous efforts to protect the taxpayers’ investment in our nation’s transportation infrastructure, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who would seek to violate the public trust.” Barnes was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to serve 40 hours of community service. All of the questionable pipe welds were retested before the pipeline was put into operation.
The case was investigated by the Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General. Senior Trial Attorneys Jennifer Whitfield and David Kehoe of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division along with Senior Litigation Counsel Steven DeBrota of the Southern District of Indiana are the prosecutors in charge of the case.