- Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
- Department of Public Utilities
- Gas Division
- Pipeline Safety Division
Media Contact for DPU to Hire Independent Evaluator to Assess Statewide Natural Gas Distribution System, Company Policies and Practices
BOSTON — The Department of Public Utilities today announced their intent to hire an independent evaluator to conduct a statewide examination of the safety of the natural gas distribution system within the Commonwealth. Through authority granted by Governor Baker under the State of Emergency declared on September 14, 2018, the Department’s Chair will direct all natural gas distribution companies operating in the Commonwealth to fund the statewide examination. The Chair’s decision to take this action is intended to assess, out of an abundance of caution, the safety of pipeline infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth and follows a similar precedent set by the state of California to conduct a third party review following a natural gas incident in 2010.
“The safety and security of all communities is the top priority of our administration, and out of an abundance of caution, I have directed the utilities to work with an independent evaluator to carry out this comprehensive safety review,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This review will help improve accountability for utilities and add another layer of oversight for all natural gas infrastructure.”
“The Department of Public Utilities continually works to ensure the safety of residents and the Commonwealth’s energy infrastructure, and the independent evaluator’s review will further the Department’s efforts by performing an additional examination of the physical condition and safety of the distribution system, as well as the operational and maintenance functions of natural gas companies,” said Department of Public Utilities Chair Angela O’Connor.
Once selected, the independent evaluator will be instructed to examine the physical integrity and safety of the natural gas distribution system and the operation and maintenance policies and practices of all natural gas distribution companies operating within the Commonwealth. Additionally, the independent evaluator will produce a report with any necessary recommendations at the end of the contract. The examination will complement, but will not duplicate, the investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board, which focuses on the gas incident on September 13, 2018 in the Merrimack Valley and its potential causes.
The Department will procure the independent evaluator through an expedited procurement with consultation from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the agency that has granted the Department delegated authority to conduct pipeline safety activities.
The scope of the independent evaluator’s assessment with respect to physical distribution will analyze each gas distribution companies’ respective system designs of low, medium, and high pressure mains and associated service lines to ensure they are compliant with applicable federal and state regulations. The assessment will also seek to identify any weaknesses or deficiencies in the distribution system and make recommendations for changes that are not already underway.
The portion of the assessment related to the operation and maintenance of the distribution system will examine the natural gas distribution companies’ written operation and maintenance policies and procedures for their respective distribution systems, including safety protocols and incident response. It will also assess whether there are sufficient personnel, including inspectors, and management structures and communication protocols in place at the gas distribution companies to ensure that safety and incident response protocols can be operationalized. The assessment will analyze operating pressure protocols, including maximum allowable pressures and procedures in the event of abnormalities, compliance with the Dig Safe statute, and record keeping of the natural gas companies.