October 9, 2018

State orders National Grid work moratorium

Photo | Courtesy

After fielding dozens of safety complaints filed in recent weeks by locked out National Grid workers, state officials on Monday announced that a natural gas pressurization incident in Woburn had spurred them to impose a moratorium on all non-emergency and non-compliance work across the utility's service territory.

In a statement, an Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesman said that the Department of Public Utilities moratorium order will remain in effect pending the results of the department's review of National Grid's safety practices. The department is also requiring National Grid to have an inspector on location for "all work that could lead to abnormal pressurization until this review is complete," spokesman Peter Lorenz said.

According to the company, "a National Grid gas technician inadvertently introduced excess gas into a portion of our system" while performing routine maintenance on a regulator station at Wyman Street and Hart Street in Woburn at about 11:30 a.m. Monday. "The crew quickly recognized the error and within minutes, reduced the system to normal operating pressures," National Grid spokeswoman Christine Milligan said in a statement.

"There is no apparent damage to the system, which feeds approximately 300 homes through three miles of pipe," Milligan said. "In addition, pressure-control devices at each property function as an extra safety measure to limit the flow of gas to safe and normal levels. As a precaution, and to confirm that there is no damage to the system, gas has been shut off to these 300 properties. Service technicians will be turning off meters and assessing the system before starting the relight process. National Grid apologizes for the inconvenience."

During a briefing posted to Twitter by WBZ-TV, National Grid Massachusetts President Marcy Reed said workers were going door to door visiting affected homes in Woburn. She said she expected gas service to be restored to affected customers "no later than Thursday," following assessments and testing.

"It's important for everyone to know that no one here in Woburn is in danger," Reed said at a briefing where her voice was nearly drowned out by the shouts of locked out workers. "The situation is under control and we currently have engineers working on a restoration plan to bring the gas back to the 330 or so customers who are currently out."

Last week, the DPU reported that it had found 29 instances in which National Grid may have violated federal gas pipeline safety regulations since early July, and regulators said further investigation or other action may be necessary.

The DPU said the "information and evidence" of the alleged violations came from "concerned citizens," though the claims overlap with a list of roughly 100 alleged violations that the unions representing locked-out National Grid gas workers have submitted to the DPU.

On Sept. 26, two weeks after gas explosions devastated Columbia Gas customers in the Merrimack Valley, the DPU said it planned to hire an evaluator to examine natural gas infrastructure across Massachusetts. Gov. Charlie Baker described the evaluator's inquiry as "sort of a soup to nuts review of both current physical state of the infrastructure as well as the protocols that are being used by the companies and by DPU to oversee that physical infrastructure."

Lorenz said Monday that the DPU is still in the process of hiring that independent evaluator.

Since late June, about 1,250 National Grid gas workers represented by United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012 have been locked out of work by National Grid amid contract negotiations. The unions have since argued that customers are less safe with National Grid's replacement workers on the job.

National Grid said last week that its contingency workforce has completed 25,000 jobs since the lockout began on June 25.

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