Gas Incidents Trigger Inspections in Mass. and R.I.

By ecoRI News staff

Natural-gas problems continue to mount in Massachusetts, leading to system-wide inspections for National Grid.

On Oct. 8, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) ordered National Grid to impose a moratorium on all work in the utility’s service territory. The order came after an over-pressurized gas line forced the shutdown of a 3-mile stretch of the gas network in Woburn.

The stoppage is in place pending a review of the DPU’s safety practices. Until the review is compete, the DPU is requiring National Grid to have an onsite inspector for all work involving pressurization. National Grid has 930,000 gas customers in Massachusetts.

According to National Grid, the Woburn incident was the result of a veteran gas technician inadvertently introducing excess gas into the system. Some 300 customers had their service shutdown.

An independent evaluator is assessing the safety of pipeline infrastructure throughout Massachusetts “out of an abundance of caution,” according to the DPU.

Recently, the DPU announced 29 instances of gas pipeline safety violations dating back to July. The violations include drilling holes over a gas main, a manhole left open overnight, and improper inspection of gas leaks.

National Grid has until Nov. 13 to provide the DPU with information about staffing, costs, and the services that the utility has provided during the company’s current labor lockout.

The Woburn incident and the new order add to a challenging stretch for the natural-gas industry in Massachusetts. Some 1,250 unionized workers have been locked out since July because of contract negotiations. On Sept. 13, explosions and fires along the Columbia Gas distribution network in the Merrimack Valley damaged 131 structures. A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the explosion happened during a switch from a cast-iron to a plastic piping system in the area.

As a result of that incident, the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers and National Grid are inspecting the 196 natural-gas regulator stations in the state. The process is expected to be completed by the end of October.

United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012 described the Massachusetts gas network as “in disarray” and noted that hundreds of residential and commercial customers are still without heat and electricity following the Columbia Gas explosions in three communities north of Boston. 

Union officials claim the incident in Worburn involved a replacement worker.

“This DPU mandated moratorium of National Grid's non-emergency gas work is a much needed and long overdue step. Our workers have reported more than 100 potential National Grid safety violations since the lockout began in June,” according to USW Local 12012 and Local 12003.