Gas safety improvements – lessons learned from the Merrimack Valley, MA tragedy

Five years ago, when a devastating natural gas explosion happened in Massachusetts, PSE&G Gas experts acted quickly, absorbing information, and checking our New Jersey systems to reaffirm that we wouldn’t have similar issues.

While a federal investigation and improvement recommendations for all gas utilities is standard procedure after such incidents, and while we knew our system already met stringent safety measures – our team immediately launched into identifying opportunities for improvement based on lessons learned. This gave us a leg up when the governing agency released its recommendations.

“Although PSE&G has a distinctly different design than the facilities where this incident occurred, it is important to always look for ways to continuously improve operations,” said Wade E. Miller, senior director, Gas Transmission & Distribution Engineering.

Prudent measures

Following the incident, as details became clearer on the cause, we assembled an internal task force and participated on a team with the American Gas Association and other gas distribution companies to develop leading practices to prevent over-pressurization. 

To enhance safeguards against over-pressurization, we:

  • Reviewed over 1,000 district regulator records and developed comprehensive location drawings, to ensure accuracy and clarity.
  • Developed and implemented an enhanced construction inspection process, to put additional focus and requirements on construction activity in the proximity of a regulator station.
  • Modified existing procedures to include additional requirements when performing in-service and out-of-service operations.
  • Developed and deployed enhanced employee training on abnormal operating conditions.
  • Updated design specifications to include additional safeguards and protective measures for future pressure control facilities.

As a result of the work we did, both internally and working with others in the industry, several enhancements were implemented to further strengthen safeguards and to ensure we keep homes and businesses warm and safe for decades to come.

“PSE&G has a very dedicated team that puts tremendous focus on pipeline safety each day. I am proud of the work that our employees did to further strengthen our work procedures and ensure we serve our 1.9 million customers safely and reliably all year long,” Wade said.

What customers can do

Just as we remain focused on gas safety, it’s important for you to do so too. Check out these safety tips. Remember, if you smell gas – Don’t panic; act quickly. Immediately exit the building and move at least 350 feet away. Once you are at a safe distance, call PSE&G at 1-800-880-PSEG (7734) or 911 to report a potential gas leak. You will not be charged for reporting a potential gas leak.

Also, as always remember to call before you dig. Call 811 before digging, on projects from gardening to major renovations, to get a free markout and help prevent accidental damage to underground equipment.

Brian Clark, VP Gas Operations - PSE&G

Mike Schmid VP, Asset Management & Planning

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