By: Ryan Malone
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The Baker-Polito administration has filed a bill to require a professional engineer’s approval on natural gas work, following an “urgent” safety suggestion from the National Transportation Safety Board last week.
As the law stands, public utility work is excused from having to get approval from a professional engineer.
The NTSB report, which issued a total of five urgent safety recommendations in the wake of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, said it is “critical” for someone with appropriate qualifications and experience to review engineering plans for a gas company, if not develop them. The report also said that the commonwealth’s exemption for the requirement of professional engineer licensure to perform “industrial” and public utility work “foreclose” an opportunity to detect this design oversight.
Research conducted by the National Society of Professional Engineers indicates that 53 U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia have some form of industrial exemption for engineers. Of those, 16 specifically exempt public utilities to some degree.
John Buonopane, president of USW Local 12012, said the legislation is a “step in the right direction.”
“Unfortunately sometimes it takes a serious incident with serious consequences to generate a requirement,” Buonopane said.
According to the legislation filed in the House, natural gas engineering plans and specifications must bear the stamp of approval of a certified professional engineer when that work could pose a material risk to public safety, as determined by the Department of Public Utilities.
“The legislation filed by the Baker-Polito Administration will enable the Department to work closely with natural gas companies operating within the Commonwealth to ensure that infrastructure work is held to the highest industry standards, and is designed in a manner that prioritizes public safety,” Department of Public Utilities Chairwoman Angela O’Connor said.
Gov. Charlie Baker said, “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature to pass this legislation without delay in order to ensure continued safety of Massachusetts’ residents and energy infrastructure.”
The administration also announced plans for leveraging $10 million in additional funding from Columbia Gas to continue to support business recovery efforts in the Merrimack Valley yesterday.