- Department of Public Utilities
Media Contact for Department of Public Utilities Opens Formal Investigations Into 2018 Merrimack Valley Gas Incident
BOSTON — Following the release of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) final report regarding the September 13, 2018 gas incident in Merrimack Valley, the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) today formally opened two public investigations into the incident (DPU 19-140 and 19-141). In these proceedings, the DPU will investigate the cause of the 2018 gas incident, including whether Columbia Gas of Massachusetts complied with federal and state regulations, as well as the company’s emergency preparedness and response to the incident. The opening of formal investigations builds on the DPU’s ongoing information requests and data collection relating to the incident.
“The Commonwealth has a duty to ensure the safety of the public and natural gas infrastructure, and is committed to a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the tragic events in the Merrimack Valley,” said DPU Chair Matthew Nelson. “While substantive changes have been made in the months since the incident, including requiring certified professional engineers to approve natural gas work and ensuring that all natural gas companies adopt recommended comprehensive pipeline safety management standards, these investigations will help ensure any further necessary system improvements are made, and will take place in a transparent and public manner to provide residents every opportunity to be part of the process.”
As part of the investigations, the DPU will examine Columbia Gas’ role in and responsibility for the September 13, 2018 gas incident, and Columbia Gas’ compliance with federal safety regulations and the DPU’s pipeline safety regulations.
The DPU will also investigate Columbia Gas’ preparation for the gas incident and the company’s implementation of its emergency response plan, including an examination of the company’s preparation for and management of, the restoration efforts; public safety; allocation of resources to affected municipalities; timely and accurate communication with state, municipal, and public safety officials; and dissemination of timely information to the public.
Based on its findings, DPU could impose multimillion-dollar financial penalties and take additional steps to improve the overall safety and reliability of the gas pipeline system. DPU will soon issue a schedule for the investigations outlining key dates, such as the deadlines for filing testimony and public comment and when the DPU will conduct its hearings. The investigations are expected to take at least one year and will include at least one public hearing in the Merrimack Valley to solicit public comments.
To ensure the safety of the Commonwealth’s residents and energy infrastructure, on December 31, 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation previously filed by the Administration and recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board that required all natural gas work that could pose a material risk to public safety be reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer. Last year, the Baker-Polito Administration and the Northeast Gas Association also announced that all natural gas companies in Massachusetts will adopt recommended comprehensive pipeline safety management standards.
Additionally, the DPU selected Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, Inc. to conduct an independent statewide examination of the safety of the natural gas distribution system and the operational and maintenance functions of natural gas companies in the Commonwealth. The review is intended to assess, out of an abundance of caution, the current safety of pipeline infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth. In May 2019, Dynamic Risk completed the first phase of its review. The review is estimated to be completed by the end of 2019.
Governor Baker signed a FY20 budget that included, as recommended in the governor’s H.1 budget, an increase of $5.5 million over the DPU’s FY19 budget, for a total of $18 million. The increase will support and enhance the Pipeline Safety Division’s critical testing, investigations, and oversight responsibilities to ensure that natural gas distribution companies and other utilities are complying with safety regulations. The DPU’s FY20 budget also includes funding to develop a Pipeline Safety Management Standards regulatory framework.