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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Baker-Polito Administration Announces Utilities Will Adopt Comprehensive Pipeline Safety Management Standards

Baker-Polito Administration Announces Utilities Will Adopt Comprehensive Pipeline Safety Management Standards
Massachusetts Becomes First State in Nation to Fully Adopt Federally Recommended Management System

BOSTON – As part of efforts to ensure the safety of the Commonwealth’s natural gas distribution system, the Baker-Polito Administration today announced that the Northeast Gas Association (NGA) has committed to adopting a Pipeline Safety Management System, the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) Recommended Practice 1173. This marks the first time an entire state has committed to Recommend Practices 1173, which was developed in the aftermath of high-profile natural gas incidents like the San Bruno gas disaster in 2010. After the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley on September 13th, the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) requested that all natural gas companies adopt these comprehensive standards and review their safety protocols, including an examination of the feasibility of implementing a safety management system.

“Our administration is pleased that the Northeast Gas Association has complied with the DPU’s request to adopt the nation’s first statewide Pipeline Safety Management System to ensure the safety of our communities,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We are proud to work with the Northeast Gas Association and its members to ensure that a culture of safety is in place at every level of utility business operations, and that the best possible policies and oversight are in place to protect public safety.”

The purpose of the Safety Management System is to help pipeline operators create a framework for developing a comprehensive, process-oriented approach to safety, emphasizing continual assessment and improvement. Backed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Safety Management System is not a singular rule or requirement, but rather a formal business approach to managing safety risks that includes a commitment from management and organizational structures, policies, and procedures. The NGA’s adoption of these standards in the Commonwealth exceed federal requirements for pipeline safety set by the NTSB and PHMSA, and this organizational change will promote increased safety by identifying and mitigating safety risks and continuously assessing processes to improve safety performance.

“One of the goals of adopting the Safety Management System is to change the culture of safety by moving away from being reactive and becoming proactive and predictive on safety issues,” said Department of Public Utilities Chair Angela O’Connor. “The Department of Public Utilities looks forward to working with the natural gas distribution companies to fully implement this system, and to continually reassess whether the right protocols are in place to ensure the safety of our pipeline system.”

Implementation of the Safety Management System will include safety culture training of all employees and leadership, analysis and management of pipeline safety risks, implementation of better operational controls of the pipeline system and use of contractors, development of a plan for stakeholder engagement regarding safety risks, creation of a process to investigate incidents and near-misses and implement corrective actions, development of effective emergency preparedness and response procedures, development of an oversight system to continually improve the Safety Management System, and improvement of record keeping, among other actions.

“The Northeast Gas Association, representing all the natural gas distribution companies operating in Massachusetts, wishes to convey to the Commonwealth that the natural gas distribution companies are committed to working continuously and actively to implement Pipeline Safety Management Systems (PSMS), the ANSI/API Recommended Practice 1173, or RP 1173,” said Northeast Gas Association President, Thomas Kiley.

The Northeast Gas Association is a regional trade association, of which all of Massachusetts’ natural gas companies (Berkshire Gas, Blackstone Gas, Columbia Gas, Eversource Energy, Liberty Utilities, National Grid, and Unitil) are members.  NGA focuses on education and training, technology research and development, operations, planning and increasing public awareness of natural gas in the Northeast United States.

In addition to Safety Management System adoption, the Baker-Polito Administration filed legislation that will ensure continued public safety by requiring natural gas work in the Commonwealth to be reviewed and approved a by a licensed professional engineer.

In an effort to promote public safety following the incident in the Merrimack Valley, the Department of Public Utilities ordered both Columbia Gas and National Grid to impose a moratorium on all work, except for emergency and compliance work, across the companies’ entire service territory. Additionally, the Department of Public Utilities recently announced the selection of Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, Inc. to conduct an independent statewide examination of the safety of the natural gas distribution system and the operational and maintenance functions of natural 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.

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