NiSource Implements Safety Steps Across Low-Pressure Systems After Merrimack Valley Incident

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Merrillville, Indiana-based NiSource Inc. is in the process of improving safety across its entire seven-state operating area, following a gas pipeline explosion in Massachusetts last year. The company announced Feb. 22 an update on the implementation of a number of safety steps, including the installation of automatic shut-off devices to protect against over pressurization on its low-pressure systems.

“Safety is not just our top priority and a value we talk about,” said NiSource president and CEO Joe Hamrock. “Safety guides all of our actions. I am pleased to report we are taking tangible steps on our low-pressure systems across the company’s footprint, including the installation of automatic shut-off devices. We have dedicated ourselves to learning from the tragic events that took place in the Merrimack Valley last September, and all of us here at NiSource are doing everything we possibly can to ensure something like that won’t happen again.”

Since Sept. 13, 2018, when a section of pipeline operated by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts exploded north of Boston, NiSource has reviewed low-pressure systems across its operating area. This included a field survey and an engineering design review of regulator stations to determine how best to install additional over pressure protection systems, monitoring, and enhanced facility protection. Informed by this review, NiSource is strengthening safety systems to better safeguard against over pressurization and other incidents as outlined in the following steps:

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Over pressurization protection devices: As previously announced, NiSource has committed to invest an initial estimate of $150 million to install automatic shut-off devices to protect against over pressurization on every low-pressure system across its seven-state operating area. Installation work has already begun. This is a fundamental shift in the design of the natural gas system and is a priority for the company. Automatic shut-off devices provide an additional level of control and protection, operating like circuit-breakers. When the device senses an operating pressure that is too high or too low, it immediately shuts down natural gas to the system, regardless of the cause. Each of NiSource’s low-pressure distribution systems — containing approximately 2,000 regulators across the seven-state operating area — will have automatic shut-off devices in place to enhance customer safety.

Remote monitoring: NiSource has committed to adding additional remote monitoring capabilities on low-pressure systems, leveraging technology that will be installed throughout 2019. Building on existing monitoring capabilities, these will allow NiSource to see more comprehensive details on the current health and status of its systems as well as how those systems perform throughout the year, including alerts during any event of any abnormal system performance, and notifying of any automatic shut-off device activation.

Safety Management System (SMS): NiSource has accelerated its process of implementing SMS across its seven-state operating area, in line with American Petroleum Institute Recommended Practice 1173. SMS will allow the company to proactively identify and mitigate risk and enhance its pipeline safety performance.

Damage prevention: NiSource has enhanced its damage prevention practices around low-pressure regulator stations, including field inspection and monitoring of excavators working for third parties. For example, when excavation work is being conducted in close proximity to regulator stations, a NiSource employee will always be present.

Professional Engineer: In accordance with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) urgent safety recommendations, NiSource has engaged a third party who will be providing certification on all construction work packets.

RELATED: Investigation of Merrimack Valley Gas Explosion Ongoing 

Additional details on the thorough review process following the Sept. 13 event are below:

Field Survey: NiSource conducted a field survey of its low-pressure regulator systems to identify opportunities to enhance the safe and reliable operation of regulator station equipment.

Engineering Design: The company reviewed the engineering design of its regulator stations on low-pressure systems to determine how best to install additional over pressure protection systems, monitoring and enhanced facility protection.

Mapping: The company used the information from the field survey to begin adding new details to its electronic mapping system. This information is easily accessible by field and engineering personnel.

“We have updated policies, procedures, system infrastructure and risk assessment protocols to actively prevent future incidents across our natural gas network,” Hamrock said. “We continue to evaluate every opportunity to engineer fail-safe measures in our systems. This work is of the utmost importance to me and our entire team. This is our ongoing commitment to our customers and our communities.”

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