December 19, 2018

DPU eases National Grid work moratorium, with conditions

State regulators are ordering National Grid to have gas work plans reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer and have imposed a new oversight requirement on the company.

An order from the Department of Public Utilities would essentially apply the parameters of Gov. Charlie Baker's gas safety bill (H 4979) to National Grid while also easing the moratorium on all non-emergency and non-compliance work across the utility's service territory, an administration official said.

National Grid, which locked out about 1,200 of its gas workers in June and has been found by DPU to have potential violations of federal pipeline safety regulations, will now be able to conduct non-compliance work but it must conform to the new rules imposed Wednesday by DPU.

The order requires safety-sensitive National Grid gas work to be reviewed by an engineer and given a professional engineer's seal before taking place. The DPU order also requires, based on the type of work being conducted, varying degrees of direct supervision by experienced individuals, the administration said.

It also requires the company to report each day to the DPU on the number of inspectors present at every location where it conducted gas pipeline work. If National Grid does not follow the new directives, it will face fines of up to $200,000 per violation and $2,000,000 for each continuing violation.

The new restrictions apply only to National Grid, which had requested that the administration lift its work moratorium.

The moratorium, which has slowed development by holding up natural gas hookups, was put in place after a safety incident in Woburn that National Grid said was properly handled by the company. Baker has expressed hope that the moratorium will help force an end to National Grid's labor dispute with 1,200 locked out gas workers.

"By requiring National Grid to adhere to safety standards above and beyond those recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, we are protecting our residents and infrastructure while making it clear to utilities that only the highest level of attention and dedication to public safety will be tolerated in Massachusetts," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said. "The Administration repeatedly facilitated discussions between National Grid and the unions to end the lockout, and continues to urge both sides to come together to reach an agreement, in the best interest of all parties and the citizens of the Commonwealth."

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