After Explosions In Merrimack Valley, National Grid Says 'No Threat' To Its Gas Pipelines

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(Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
(Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley involving Columbia Gas have raised concerns about pipelines throughout Massachusetts, including those managed by the state's largest utility, National Grid.

The extra scrutiny comes as National Grid continues negotiating with 1,250 union gas workers who have been locked out since June.

The company said Friday its 930,000 customers shouldn't worry about the overall health of the system, but should call the utility if they think they smell gas. Since the explosions, National Grid has received many calls from customers concerned they might be smelling gas, according to company spokesperson Danielle Williamson.

Williamson said there's "no threat" to the utility's pipelines and the company hopes to learn from the Columbia Gas explosions.

"We do want our National Grid customers to know now that their system is operating normally, and we are committed to safety and anything that we can learn to help ensure that this does not happen again," Williamson said in a phone interview.

Safety concerns have, however, been raised about National Grid during its 12-week lockout. And the state attorney general's office has called for an investigation. Many of the complaints come from union workers alleging safety violations by their replacements.

John Buonopane, president of United Steelworkers Local 12012, said the Columbia Gas explosions show why the state should increase scrutiny of gas companies.

"We really think the Department of Public Utilities, state officials, the governor, [lawmakers at] the State House really have to step in and start looking at what these utilities are doing," Buonopane said in a phone interview. "The infrastructure is old in a lot of areas, it’s aged, and it does have to be replaced, but it has to be replaced responsibly, with the absolute oversight of gas projects."

National Grid maintains that its operations have been smooth during its lockout, despite union complaints.

The utility is sending 140 gas workers from Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island unions who aren't locked out to help with the emergency response effort in the Merrimack Valley.

The locked-out unions have also offered to help.

And as to the impact the explosions might have on negotiations? Both sides said it hasn't changed anything. Their next round of talks are scheduled for next week.

This article was originally published on September 14, 2018.

This segment aired on September 15, 2018.


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Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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