Report details causes of January natural gas outage

The Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (RIPUC) issued the following report today “describing the causes of the natural gas outage on Aquidneck Island on January 21, 2019”.

On January 21, 2019, National Grid shut down a significant portion of its natural gas distribution system in Newport and Middletown, resulting in a gas service outage to 7,455 customers. January 21st was “one of the coldest days experienced of the last decade”, according to the report. Temperature measure in Portsmouth was a low of 2 degrees and a high of 12 degrees, according to the report. Gas was shut off for some customers for seven consecutive days, according to the report.

The report comes just three days after What’s Up Newp published a story detailing how Newport officials are frustrated, concerned, and impatient as promised reports on the specific cause of the massive gas outage nine months ago have yet to surface. Read our story from Sunday here – With cold weather not far off, reports on last winter’s gas outage still not released

The Report is the product of a summary investigation that began on January 30, 2019 and has been carried out under the Division’s statutory authority to investigate matters relating to public utilities under the Division’s jurisdiction, pursuant to §39-4-13 of Rhode Island General Laws. The Division conducted its summary investigation in coordination with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) which undertook its own independent investigation (report to be linked to here, when it is published).

According to the report, the gas service outage on Aquidneck Island was the result of a low-pressure condition on the “G-System” branch of the Algonquin pipeline, the portion of the interstate natural gas pipeline that serves Aquidneck Island and much of Rhode Island owned and operated by Enbridge, Inc. The low-pressure condition was reportedly the result of three separate precipitating factors that each contributed to cause the low-pressure condition.

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Those three precipitating factors that occurred on the morning of January 21st were as follows, according to the report;

  • Demand for natural gas was in excess of contractual limits by many of Algonquin’s customers along the Algonquin G-System, driven by sudden low temperatures;
  • The uninterruptible power system at the liquified natural gas storage and vaporization facility at Fields Point in Providence, owned and operated by National Grid LNG, failed, shutting down the vaporizers and causing a sudden and very large increase in demand for gas from the Algonquin pipeline into the Providence area; demand that would otherwise have been met by vaporized LNG from the Fields Point facility;
  • A valve located on the Algonquin pipeline at a meter station in Weymouth, Massachusetts operated by Enbridge malfunctioned. The malfunction stemmed from a programming error that caused the valve to repeatedly open and close restricting the flow of gas when the system operators attempted to inject more into the Algonquin pipeline that feeds gas into the G-System.

The report details a low-pressure event on March 7, 2014 (page 49 of the report) that could have signaled a need for contingency planned for Aquidneck Island.

The Full Report

AI_Report

Further regulatory proceedings resulting from the Report

“First, pursuant to §39-4-14 the Division anticipates a hearing before an impartial Division Hearing Officer to consider an alleged violation of notification requirements as described in the Report. A Notice of Probable Violation will be issued to National Grid by the end of this week,” RIPUC states in a press release. 

Because National Grid failed to provide a telphonic notification to the Division of the emergency shutdown of an LNG facility, the Division says they will issue a Notice of Probable Violation and will issue a fine of $39,000 to National Grid.

“Given the documents provided by the Company to the Divison, it is apparent that Company management knew immediately on January 21 that the shutdown of the LNG plant impacted the Algonquin G-System and gas pressure at Portsmouth,” the report states.

RIPUC continues with its possible regulatory proceedings, “Second, pursuant to §39-1-1 National Grid may seek approval from the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission for recovery from ratepayers of any of the costs the Company incurred related to the outage. In the event that National Grid chooses to seek recovery of these costs, the Division anticipates hearings before the Public Utilities Commission to determine whether any of the costs may be recovered from ratepayers. The Report addresses the issue of cost recovery and states the Division’s intention to oppose any such request”. 

In the report and under “The recommendation for denial of cost recovery by Narragansett Electric” it states in part, “Based on the finding of the Report, the Division has identified sufficient grounds for it to oppose recovery of over $25 million in costs incurred by Narragansett Electric. The Division will recommend that the shareholders of Narragansett Electric and Enbridge, not Rhode Island’s gas customers, bear the costs of the gas outage and restoration”.

“As these future regulatory proceedings will necessarily involve the Division and will include further review of factual assertions and conclusions in the Report, the Division will respectfully decline to respond to questions relating to the content of the Report and the reasons for its conclusions,” the RIPUC concluded. 

National Grid’s Response To Report

National Grid issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon about the reports from the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration surrounding the Aquidneck Island gas supply interruption from January 2019:

“Last winter we experienced an unprecedented gas supply event.  The Aquidneck Island community and National Grid were part of extraordinary response that included a thousand employees and tens of thousands of residents coming together to help each other through those challenging days and nights. Everything we did in the minutes, hours, and days following was driven by a need to ensure the safety of our customers.

Since then, we have been working hard to learn from that event and take what actions we can to provide secure energy for Aquidneck Island.  Over the last several months, we have fully cooperated with the federal investigation as well as the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers in their summary investigation.  We have answered hundreds of data requests, and met with them on multiple occasions to help determine what can be done to help protect against another supply interruption.  

Although we don’t agree with everything in the report, we are pleased the Division’s report reflects National Grid’s fundamental commitment to safety and our exemplary emergency response.  And we are appreciative of their diligence in examining all aspects of the incident, including the areas where we excelled and where we could improve.  In fact, we have already addressed many of the proposed recommendations included in their report, securing additional winter gas supplies, expanding our energy efficiency and demand response programs, and improving long-range planning.

While we will carefully review these reports over the coming days, the findings confirm our concerns regarding operations of the Algonquin transmission system. Had the transmission system performed as expected, the outage would not have occurred. More importantly, we are focused on the winter ahead and Rhode Island’s energy future. The Aquidneck community should have confidence that gas reliability and future gas service on the Island are a top priority for us.  As the local gas distribution company, we are here working with our communities and taking the steps necessary to meet this objective. We want to do everything possible to secure the ongoing energy needs of Aquidneck Island.”


This story is developing, more information and reaction to come.

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