Con­necti­cut’s ag­ing nat­u­ral gas lines are un­der scru­tiny

Con­cern af­ter houses ex­plode in Mass­a­chu­setts last month

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - NEWS - By Bill Cum­mings bcum­mings@ct­post.com

A 2017 Sierra Club study found that the labyrinth of nat­u­ral gas pipe­lines un­der­neath Hart­ford leak enough to power 214 house­holds a year.

Yan­kee Gas Ser­vices — the gas provider for Dan­bury, Stam­ford, Norwalk and other Fair­field County towns — has iden­ti­fied 530 miles of leak-prone pipe­lines in need of re­pair or re­place­ment, tes­ti­mony be­fore state reg­u­la­tors shows.

Sud­den un­der­ground gas ex­plo­sions in Mass­a­chu­setts last month rocked neigh­bor­hoods in Lawrence and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties, killing one res­i­dent, in­jur­ing dozens of oth­ers and leav­ing 8,600 cus­tomers with­out power.

Against that back­drop, a pair of state law­mak­ers is de­mand­ing a com­pre­hen­sive ac­count­ing of the state’s over­sight of Con­necti­cut’s more than 8,100 miles of nat­u­ral gas pipe­lines.

“I’ve sounded the alarm that we should in­spect the old lines,” said state Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridge­port.

“The mayor of Lawrence is a friend and I got a close hand-look at what hap­pened,” Rosario said.

“It’s go­ing to take a long time for those fam­i­lies to re­cover. Many still don’t have power. Can you imag­ine if that hap­pened in Bridge­port?”

Rosario and state Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said the Mass­a­chu­setts ex­plo­sions — a sud­den pres­sure spike may have been the cause — and grow­ing con­cern over Con­necti­cut’s ag­ing pipe­lines prompted a re­quest for re­view by the state Pub­lic Util­i­ties Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity.

The law­mak­ers want to know how many pipe­lines are leak­ing in Con­necti­cut; the re­place­ment plan; the role of state pipeline in­spec­tors; safety com­pli­ance records; emer­gency pro­ce­dures; and a over­all sum­mary of how PURA guards pub­lic safety.

State of­fi­cials said there is lit­tle need for worry and stressed Con­necti­cut is ahead of Mass­a­chu­setts in re­plac­ing and im­prov­ing ag­ing gas pipe­lines and their sys­tems.

“PURA has one of the most ro­bust leak de­tec­tion pro­grams in the na­tion that care­fully mon­i­tors and en­forces gas pipeline safety reg­u­la­tions and pro­grams in Con­necti­cut,” said Chris Col­libee, a PURA spokesman.

Miles of pipe

Con­necti­cut’s sys­tem of un­der­ground gas pipe­lines has been around for decades, hid­den out of sight un­der tons of dirt, grass and as­phalt. But con­cern about un­der­ground pipes is sur­fac­ing lo­cally and na­tion­ally.

A re­cent USA To­day re­port found that at least 85,000 miles of ag­ing ca­st­iron and bare-steel gas pipes are still op­er­at­ing in U.S. com­mu­ni­ties, de­spite decades of warn­ings from the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board and other safety of­fi­cials that they’re prone to fail­ure and need re­plac­ing.

The best re­place­ment op­tion is plas­tic pipes that fail at far slower rates than iron and steel pipes.

In 2017, 42.5 per­cent, or 3,451 miles, of the state’s main lines and ser­vice lines were made of steel and 15.5 per­cent, or 1,260 miles, were made of iron, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Pipeline and Haz­ardous Ma­te­ri­als Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has man­dated a re­place­ment pro­gram for the states.

The re­main­ing gas pipeline — 3,451 miles or 42.5 per­cent — are made of plas­tic, PHMSA statis­tics show.

Col­libee said the state’s Gas Pipeline Safety Unit per­forms about 450 field in­spec­tions an­nu­ally and re­views the de­sign, op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance of the pipeline in­fra­struc­ture to en­sure com­pli­ance with safety stan­dards.

“Gas util­ity com­pa­nies are re­quired to re­port all leaks to PURA, which then takes ac­tion to ad­dress those leaks,” Col­libee said.

“Con­necti­cut is ac­tu­ally in far bet­ter shape than our neigh­bors to the north,” Col­libee said.

“While I can­not speak for Mass­a­chu­setts, Con­necti­cut has been very ag­gres­sive in the re­place­ment of leak-prone in­fra­struc­ture for many years, and we will con­tinue to do so,” Col­libee said.

At the end of 2017, leakprone main pipe­lines made from iron, steel or cop­per ac­counted for nearly 18 per­cent of the state’s to­tal main line miles, while nearly 13 per­cent of ser­vice lines were made of iron, cop­per or steel, Col­libee said.

Fed­eral statis­tics show that gas line leaks in Con­necti­cut have been de­creas­ing, from about 25 leaks per 1,000 miles of pipe in 2010 to about 10 leaks per 1,000 miles in 2017.

Colibee did not pro­vide the num­ber of miles of leak-prone pipe­lines un­der­neath the state, which would in­clude both main trans­mis­sion lines and ser­vice lines.

Pay­ing for re­place­ment

Dur­ing re­cent tes­ti­mony be­fore PURA over a pend­ing rate hike re­quest, Thomas Hart, di­rec­tor of gas en­gi­neer­ing for Ever­source and Yan­kee Gas, said leak­ing pipes have de­creased by 52 per­cent since 2012.

But Hart told reg­u­la­tors the “over­all main and ser­vice leak rates for Yan­kee are high within the U.S,” and noted those leak rates present “sub­stan­tial ad­di­tional risk to Yan­kee’s cus­tomers.”

Hart told PURA those pipes should be re­placed as quickly as pos­si­ble and iden­ti­fied 530 miles of leakprone main lines.

The pur­pose of Hart’s tes­ti­mony was to con­vince PURA to al­lo­cate a por­tion of the com­pany’s pro­posed rate hike to re­plac­ing leak prone gas lines. Yan­kee Gas is propos­ing to spend $30 mil­lion over the next three years on pipeline re­place­ment and $221 mil­lion on re­li­a­bil­ity.

Michael West, a spokesman for the South­ern Con­necti­cut Gas and Con­necti­cut Nat­u­ral Gas com­pa­nies, said “suf­fi­cient sys­tems” are in place to en­sure pub­lic safety.

“Safety is our No. 1 pri­or­ity for our cus­tomers and our em­ploy­ees,” West said.

West said Con­necti­cut Nat­u­ral Gas will spend about $21 mil­lion a year re­plac­ing gas pipe­lines and mak­ing other im­prove­ments and South­ern Con­necti­cut Gas plans to spend $86 mil­lion by 2020.

West also de­clined to say how many miles of leak prone pipe­lines are within the com­pany’s ser­vice ter­ri­tory.

‘Deeply con­cern­ing’

Lesser and Rosario said they don’t know the ex­tent of the leak prob­lem in Con­necti­cut, and added that’s a trou­bling ad­mis­sion.

“In wake of the Lawrence dis­as­ter, it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to have a re­view to make sure what hap­pened in Lawrence does not hap­pen here,” Lesser said.

“The state does in­spec­tions; I’m re­view­ing how that works,” Lesser added. “They have state work­ers who do the main trans­mis­sion lines.”

Lesser noted the util­ity com­pa­nies are re­spon­si­ble for in­spect­ing ser­vice lines that run from the main lines to homes and busi­nesses.

Rosario said the leg­is­la­ture may want to look at PURA’s over­sight, in­spec­tion and safety pro­ce­dures.

“We want to make sure that the way DOT in­spects bridges is some­thing sim­i­lar to what’s done with our pipe­lines,” Rosario said. “Mass­a­chu­setts found that 70 per­cent are faulty.”

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