D.C.-Md. Utility May Bury Lines

After a strong and sudden storm on June 29 cut power to 443,000 customers in Washington, D.C., and its Maryland suburbs, utility Pepco said it is considering burying more power lines. The company has no cost estimate yet to place its system underground, but experts have estimated it could be as high as $5 billion since lines must be buried in 3-ft-deep trenches, said a spokesman. "Pepco will analyze the benefits and costs of more extensive selective undergrounding and even complete undergrounding of the overhead electric system," he said. The utility told the Maryland Public Service Commission in a July 13 letter that even aggressive tree trimming cannot always resolve reliability issues on some lines, particularly in catastrophic storms. Pepco, which already has replaced 500 miles of aging underground lines, will file its analysis with regulators in six months.

BP To Pay $13 Million More as Result of Fatal Texas Plant Fire

Energy giant BP agreed on June 12 to pay an additional $13 million to settle more than 400 U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration citations for alleged willful safety violations at the company's Texas City, Texas, refinery. The agreement is the latest development following a 2005 plant explosion that killed 15 workers of Fluor Corp. and Jacobs Engineering Group, the BP site's key site contractors at the time. In 2010, BP reached an agreement with OSHA to pay $50.6 million to resolve 270 other infractions it had failed to correct earlier. OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab says 30 remaining citations "will continue to be negotiated or litigated."

Fracking OK'd in North Carolina

After some back-and-forth maneuvering by state politicians, North Carolina agreed earlier this month to allow, starting in 2014, oil and natural-gas companies to use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to tap shale formations in the state's western Deep River Basin. Legislators overrode a veto by Gov. Beverly Purdue (D), who said the bill lacked sufficient environmental protections. A panel of lawmakers and regulators are set to write implementing rules for the fracking and drilling process, with industry input. Officials estimate that permits could be issued as soon as October 2014. In June, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the basin has 1.53 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas and 83 million barrels of natural-gas liquids.

June Materials Prices Fall 0.6%

The average composite price for all construction materials declined 0.6% in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The monthly decline held the average materials prices to just a 0.2% annual gain over July 2011's level. The biggest declines are for steel products. Steel mill prices are down 3.2% from a year ago. Lumber prices are up 11%, and cement prices are up 1.5% from July 2011.

U.K. Rail Owner, Designers Link To Pursue Global Rail Projects

London-based Network Rail, the owner and operator of the U.K. rail infrastructure system, said on July 9 it has formed a consulting arm to pursue international rail work, teamed with engineer-program managers CH2MHill Cos., Denver, and Atkins Global, also London. Network Rail said it aims to provide services—such as planning, asset management, project delivery and operations—targeting large, aging rail infrastructure in need of modernization, particularly in the U.S. and India. Further, the company says it is eyeing opportunities to team with consultants elsewhere, including Brazil, northern Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and Australia. Network Rail took over managing U.K. rail in 2002.