Utilities Subcommittee

Natural Gas Crisis Intensifies

By October 16, 2018 No Comments

State DPU Imposes Moratorium on Both National Grid and Columbia Gas; Builders Feel The Impacts

The tragic series of events on September 13 in the Merrimack Valley, where a series of explosions, the resulting loss of a life, countless fires, and the uprooting of thousands of residents, has exposed some serious concerns and flaws with natural gas distribution in Massachusetts. We in the homebuilding industry, who take pride in maintaining a safe work environment on the jobsite, could have never anticipated how one small series of errors could result in such widespread damage and destruction. According to the Preliminary Report of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released last Thursday, “the system over-pressure damaged 131 structures, including at least 5 homes that were destroyed in the city of Lawrence and the towns of Andover and North Andover. Most of the damage was a result of structure fires ignited by gas-fueled appliances. Several structures were destroyed by natural gas explosions. One person was killed and at least 21 individuals, including 2 firefighters, were transported to the hospital. Seven other firefighters received minor injuries.” See NTSB Report here.

At one point there were as many as 18 simultaneous fire events occurring each in the City of Lawrence, and the Towns of Andover and North Andover, with mutual aid calls extending from throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. The result has led to the need to replace almost 57 miles of gas line within this small service area, some of which were installed as early as 1900, along with the need to tie-in new lines to each residential and commercial building, and the replacement of all gas appliances. See Columbia Gas Daily Briefing here to understanding the scope of this massive undertaking.

Coming on the heels of the Columbia Gas incident was another over-pressurization event occurring in Woburn last Monday, which led the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to issue an Order stopping on all work across the company’s entire service territory pending the results of the state agency’s review of the company’s safety practices. This Order, on top of the National Grid labor strike already crippling service delivery, has significantly impacted the ability of our Members from being able to secure timely gas connections.

And then lastly, this past Friday, the DPU issued an order imposing a moratorium on Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which prohibits the company from performing any work in the state through at least December 1. The ban, which came as a result of the preliminary NTSB Report released last Thursday, prohibits any future work except for emergency work, including the restoration of service in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.

The resulting work stoppages and moratoria, although deemed necessary by the State to re-evaluate existing natural gas line and delivery safety protocol, has significantly impacts many of our builder members who have units in varying stages of construction, and yet, cannot obtain a certificate of occupancy, or close on a sale or lease a unit because of the immediate work stoppages. We have heard from many of you.

We also want you to know that your Association, particularly our Utilities Subcommittee Co-Chairs, Mark Leff and Russ Leonard, our Association lobbyist, Ben Fierro, as well as your Association President, are on top of this crisis, and are doing all that we can under the current regulatory climate to seek a lifting of the orders to enable new natural gas connections in the affected service territories. We have reached out to the utility providers, as well as to State Leadership, in efforts to ensure that our voice is being heard, and that measures can be taken to bring what we hope is a swift end to the moratorium on new connections.

We understand the pressure these connection bans are placing on our Members. In the coming weeks, we will brief you as new information comes to light.

If you have been informed by National Grid that your project is being affected by the moratorium please respond with details to Joe Laners at jlanders@hbrama.com.

Hunter Marosits