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Report raises gas utility safety issues - Says National Grid is struggling to address leaks

by Colin Young and Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine

A PANEL REVIEWING the physical integrity and safety of the state’s natural gas distribution system found a gap exists between the way gas utilities say their crews perform work on the gas system and the way that work actually happens in the field. It also found that National Grid, the utility serving eastern Massachusetts, including Boston, is struggling to contain leaks on its gas distribution system.


Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc., a company contracted by the Baker administration to examine the safety of natural gas infrastructure in the wake of the September 2018 natural gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley, turned in its final report this week. The report includes specific observations about each of the state’s gas utilities after spending time observing gas work job sites and reviewing gas company manuals, policies, and procedures.


The utility-by-utility analysis indicates National Grid, the state’s largest gas utility serving 116 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts, is lagging in repairing gas leaks. Overall, the report said, 28 percent of the utility’s mains are made of leak-prone materials, a percentage that rises to 41 percent in Boston itself. More than 40 percent of the mains across the National Grid system were installed before 1970, and the miles of mains with discovered leaks on the National Grid distribution system actually increased between 2013 and 2018.

The firm’s phase one report found that the state’s natural gas system is “generally reliable” but is made up of a higher proportion of leak-prone pipes, mains, and services made out of cast iron, wrought iron, or unprotected steel. It highlighted emergency response preparedness and overall safety as areas that must become greater points of emphasis at most every level of utility companies and the Department of Public Utilities.



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