- Department of Public Utilities
Media Contact for Department of Public Utilities Requires National Grid to Adopt Strict New Safety Standards for Natural Gas Work
BOSTON — The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) today issued a directive requiring National Grid to implement comprehensive new safety protocols before the company can initiate any natural gas work besides emergency work. After an overpressurization incident in Woburn, the DPU had ordered National Grid to impose a moratorium on all work, except for emergency and compliance work, and to provide the DPU information on its safety practices, staffing and other project specific protocols.
Following a thorough review of National Grid’s safety practices, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) recommendation that the Commonwealth require the stamp of a certified professional engineer on gas pipeline work, the DPU found that further restrictions are needed to ensure public safety, integrity of the gas pipeline system and oversight of National Grid’s work.
“These comprehensive new safety requirements further the Baker-Polito Administration’s efforts to ensure the Commonwealth’s natural gas distribution system is operated in a safe and reliable manner,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “By requiring National Grid to adhere to safety standards above and beyond those recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, we are protecting our residents and infrastructure while making it clear to utilities that only the highest level of attention and dedication to public safety will be tolerated in Massachusetts. The Administration repeatedly facilitated discussions between National Grid and the unions to end the lockout, and continues to urge both sides to come together to reach an agreement, in the best interest of all parties and the citizens of the Commonwealth.”
The directive issued by the Department of Public Utilities contains specific comprehensive safety requirements for National Grid, applicable to all non-emergency work. First, it requires National Grid to use task specific operating procedures which will lay out step-by-step instructions as to how work on any given project will be conducted. In addition, consistent with recommendations made by the NTSB and legislation filed by the Baker-Polito Administration, National Grid will be required to obtain the review and approval of a certified professional engineer in advance of any work taking place within their distribution territory. National Grid will also be required to impose stricter standards than those currently required for employee qualifications to ensure public safety, including requiring five years of experience for work on low pressure service lines, 10 years of experience for work on intermediate pressure service lines, and 15 years of experience for work on high pressure service lines.
“The Department of Public Utilities is dedicated to holding utilities accountable to provide affordable, reliable and safe natural gas service to Massachusetts ratepayers,” said Department of Public Utilities Chair Angela O’Connor. “After reviewing National Grid’s safety practices, we are proud to announce new gas pipeline protocols that will hold the company to an unprecedentedly high standard.”
The directive also requires National Grid to report daily to the DPU on the number of inspectors present at every location where it conducted gas pipeline work, and continues the requirement in the DPU’s October 8 letter that National Grid must have an inspector on location for all work that could lead to abnormal pressurization.
If National Grid fails to follow these standards, it will face fines of up to $200,000 per violation and $2,000,000 for each continuing violation. The DPU will continue its investigation of National Grid’s safety practices and may issue additional orders as deemed appropriate.
In an effort to promote public safety following the incident in the Merrimack Valley, the Baker-Polito Administration filed legislation that would require all natural gas work that could pose a material risk to public safety be reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer. This bill has received support from natural gas companies and legislators, and is currently pending before the Massachusetts Legislature.
The Baker-Polito Administration and the Northeast Gas Association also recently announced that all natural gas companies in MA will adopt recommended comprehensive pipeline safety management standards.
The DPU announced the selection of 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 September, the DPU issued an Order reducing National Grid’s proposed return on equity due to finding that National Grid had shown persistent disregard for federal and state pipeline safety regulations to the detriment of ratepayers.