Massachusetts officials on Tuesday moved to require all natural gas work that could pose a material risk to public safety be reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer.
Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito filed the Act to Ensure Safety and Soundness of the Commonwealth’s Natural Gas Infrastructure. The legislation is in response to recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) following the Merrimack Valley gas explosions during September that rocked three towns.
“We are filing legislation to require certified professional engineers to review and approve natural gas work in order to provide another critical check and balance on the Commonwealth’s gas infrastructure,” Baker said. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the legislature to pass this legislation without delay in order to ensure continued safety of Massachusetts’ residents and energy infrastructure.”
According to the legislation filed in the state House, gas engineering plans and specifications must include the stamp of approval of a certified professional engineer when that work could pose a material risk to public safety, as determined by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU).
In a report issued earlier this month, the NTSB said the commonwealth is one of many states that do not require approval of public utility engineering plans certified by a professional engineer. The legislation filed is to ensure that gas engineering work is performed “consistent with a standard of care” and a code of ethics.
“The safety of the commonwealth’s residents and natural gas infrastructure is of the utmost importance” to state regulators, said DPU Chair Angela O’Connor. “The legislation filed by the Baker-Polito administration will enable the department to work closely with natural gas companies operating within the Commonwealth to ensure that infrastructure work is held to the highest industry standards and is designed in a manner that prioritizes public safety.”
To promote public safety, DPU ordered the state’s two gas utilities, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which allegedly is to blame for the Merrimack Valley incident, and National Grid to impose a moratorium on all work, except for emergency and compliance work, across the companies’ entire service territory.
Additionally, DPU recently selected Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc. to conduct an independent examination of the safety of the state’s gas distribution system and the operational and maintenance functions of 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,” DPU said.
Baker on Tuesday also rolled out plans to leverage $10 million in additional funding to support business recovery efforts in the Merrimack Valley. He was joined in the announcement by North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor, Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan and Columbia Gas of Massachusetts Vice President Elizabeth Foley.
More than 600 businesses in North Andover, Lawrence and Andover were impacted by the disaster, and the funding program addresses immediate and longer-term opportunities to support their recovery.
“Since the tragedy in the Merrimack Valley, our administration has focused on providing assistance to those who have been impacted to help them get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Baker said. “The additional support...will help speed up the recovery process for affected residents and businesses.”
About $2 million is to be directed to technical and other business support, with $6 million for “municipal discretion” to support business and economic development, with another $2 million for longer-term regional support.
“Throughout our effort in the restoration process in the Merrimack Valley, we have seen first-hand the viability that local businesses bring to each of the three impacted communities,” Foley said. “We pledge our continued support to restore these businesses and are proud to invest in long-term economic development and growth opportunities for the region.”
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation was holding a hearing Monday morning in Lawrence. Convened by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), speakers were to include Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Steve Bryant and NiSource Inc. CEO Joe Hamrock.
Other speakers scheduled to speak included NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, chief counsel Paul Roberti of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and Matthew A. Beaton, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Rivera, along with Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield, were also scheduled to appear.