opinion Newport Rhode Island

Public deserves answers about cause of gas crisis By Rep. Lauren H. Carson and Sen. Dawn Euer

The public has a right to know all of the available information when it comes to their safety. The crisis last week with the gas system on Aquidneck Island is no exception.

More than 10,000 of our Newport constituents, both homeowners and businesses, on Aquidneck were displaced, with our lives turned upside down. Many of us were forced to leave our homes and places of work unwillingly to seek shelter elsewhere to keep our families warm.

National Grid and Algonquin Gas Transmission, which owns the pipeline delivering gas to Rhode Island, have given inconsistent and contradictory reasons for the outage, which has only added to the frustration on Aquidneck Island. National Grid has pointed to a deadly pipeline explosion in Ohio and frozen valves locally. Algonquin, meanwhile, has blamed high gas demand due to cold weather.

However, this last reason seems unlikely to be the cause. The information we have collected indicates that it was not gas demand, but a system failure that caused the drop in pressure that led to these problems. This incident occurred after a reasonably short cold snap, relatively early in the winter. It was not caused by cold, high demand or short gas supply as National Grid is legally required to plan for winter demand well in advance and to secure sufficient pipeline capacity and gas supply to ensure that customers’ heat stays on. National Grid also keeps stored gas on hand to guard against the issue of high demand during cold winter days, further diminishing the likelihood that this was caused by a shortage.

The suggestion from Algonquin that cold-related gas demand caused this problem has been accompanied by another plea for more gas pipelines into the region.  This, they have claimed, would have prevented this incident. We are not gas experts, but we do know that at the very least, this crisis deserves a full evaluation to determine exactly what happened last week in Newport. We are not convinced that more gas pipelines built on the backs of gas customers would do anything to correct or prevent this situation, and it’s simply irresponsible to suggest otherwise so quickly.

Meanwhile, National Grid did their best to solve the problem. The utility managed the difficult task of going door to door to manually turn off the gas in each property before the company re-pressurized the system, bringing homes back online safely. They completed this task of re-lighting 6,100 homes and businesses in less than 36 hours and, indeed, that was an amazing accomplishment.

And now for the big questions: We are calling on National Grid and Algonquin to give the public a straight, honest explanation about why this happened, and for Algonquin to stop calling for additional gas pipelines until we get some truthful answers about the cause of the crisis. More gas lines only contribute to climate change and increase their bottom line. We promise to get these answers, to hold public meetings, to work closely with the City Council and city management and to communicate the answers to our constituents.  We will also oppose any attempts by these utilities to pass the recovery costs on to the monthly bills of Rhode Island ratepayers —that would be unacceptable.

Understandably, folks in Newport were and still are frustrated with the situation, and we deserve answers about why this happened and what the utilities are doing to ensure it won’t happen again. People who were forced from their homes and had their lives upended deserve answers, not a sales pitch.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson is a Democrat who represents District 75 in Newport. Sen. Dawn Euer is a Democrat who represents District 13 in Newport and Jamestown.