November 2019 Vol. 74 No. 11


Fed Recommendations Based on 2018 Massachusetts Blasts

Federal officials are recommending stronger nationwide requirements for natural gas systems following last September's natural gas explosions and fires in Massachusetts. 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said every state should require all natural gas infrastructure projects be reviewed and approved by a licensed professional engineer. 

Nineteen states currently have such a requirement, but most have specifically exempted the natural gas industry from such review requirements, the office said. 

"In all 50 states, you have to have a license to cut hair, but you can design a gas system that affects public safety, and 31 states exempt you from having a license or even an engineering degree," said Robert Hall, who heads the agency's office of Railroad, Pipeline, and Hazardous Material Investigations, during the board's discussion and vote on the recommendations in Washington, D.C. 

The board also recommended that natural gas utilities be required to install additional safeguards on low pressure, natural gas systems like the one involved in the Sept. 13, 2018, disaster. 

Officials concluded last October that the series of explosions and fires had been caused by a gas line that had become over-pressurized during a routine pipeline replacement project in Lawrence. 

NTSB officials said the company should have been aware of the inherent risks in the pipeline upgrade work and taken necessary precautions. Similar incidents have happened at least seven times over the last 50 years across the U.S., including several involving NiSource, Inc., the Indiana-based parent company of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, they said. 

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