Jay Gonzalez Calls for Reforms at Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities

Proposed changes would enhance oversight of natural gas infrastructure and help ensure public safety

BOSTON, Monday, September 17 – Jay Gonzalez, Democratic nominee for Governor of Massachusetts, today called for significant changes at the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to improve oversight of Massachusetts’ natural gas infrastructure. Gonzalez’s comments come days after a series of gas-related explosions and fires in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover led to the death of one man, the displacement of hundreds of families, and millions of dollars in property damage.

At a press conference outside the State House, Gonzalez called for:

  • Hiring significantly more inspectors at the DPU to ensure the safety of existing pipeline infrastructure;

  • Requiring all safety violation incidents be reported to the DPU and the DPU to publicly report, investigate and act on such filings in a timely manner;

  • Accelerating the repair or replacement of leaking gas pipeline infrastructure across Massachusetts;

  • Requiring gas utilities to have comprehensive response plans in place in the event of emergencies like the recent explosions in the Merrimack Valley; and

  • Stopping the expansion of natural gas pipeline infrastructure in Massachusetts.

“The current system of oversight for Massachusetts’ natural gas infrastructure is woefully under-resourced,” said Gonzalez. “In light of the recent tragedy in the Merrimack Valley, the urgency to ensure the safety of our existing pipelines is clear. We need to be more proactive in overseeing the gas utilities and do everything we can to keep people safe.”

Currently, the DPU employs only 8 inspectors who are responsible for monitoring the nearly 21,000 miles of natural gas pipelines in Massachusetts, meaning each inspector is responsible for more than 2,600 miles of pipeline – nearly the distance from Boston to San Francisco. The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) estimates that nearly one third of the existing pipeline infrastructure in Massachusetts is out of date and prone to leaks. Furthermore, public documents from the DPU show that there are currently thousands of leaks throughout the system, many of which result from over-pressurization, the same issue believed to be the cause of the fatal explosions in the Merrimack Valley.

The infrastructure issues facing the Commonwealth are exacerbated by the ongoing lockout at National Grid. The workers who are locked out have reported nearly 100 safety violations involving temporary workers to the DPU over the past two months, including nearly a dozen involving over-pressurization of natural gas pipelines. Gonzalez has joined workers in meetings with the DPU to convey concerns about the lack of urgency and transparency in investigating and resolving the reported violations.