Report details problems leading up to Aquidneck Island gas outage

AQUIDNECK ISLAND, R.I. (WLNE) – The state has released the results of their report on what led to the natural gas outage on Aquidneck Island in January that left thousands of National Grid customers without heat for a week.

The 74-page report by the State of Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers outlines the results of their investigation, identifies the alleged violations of safety rules, and describes recommendations to prevent a widespread outage from happening again. 

They found that National Grid violated regulations, failing to report the closure of their LNG system in Providence. The investigators also put blame on the pipeline operator, Enbridge, for a valve malfunction that helped cause the outage.

The outage occurred on the evening of January 21, 2019. Gas service wasn’t restored until a week later, on January 30.

According to the report, the week-long outage was the result of a low-pressure condition on the “G-System” branch of the Algonquin pipeline that serves Aquidneck Island and much of the state.

The low-pressure condition was due to these factors, the report claims:

– Demand for natural gas in excess of contractural limits by customers along the pipeline due to sudden freezing temperatures

– Failure of the power system at the natural gas storage and vaporization facilities at Fields Point in Providence, owned and operated by National Grid LNG, causing a sudden increase in demand for gas from the pipeline into the Providence area

– A valve malfunction located on the Algonquin pipeline at a meter station in Weymouth, Mass.

All three factors, according to the report, contributed to the low-pressure condition that led to the outage.

Three months before the outage, in November of 2018, National Grid LNG experienced an emergency shutdown “due to a failed uninterruptible power supply which it did not adequately investigate or resolve,” the report reads. Had they fixed it, the gas line pressure would have been sustained and not caused an outage.

The report also points the finger at National Grid for not addressing the growing demand on the island. In 2010, National Grid deactivated its permanent LNG storage and vaporization facility in Newport and did not deploy temporary LNG vaporization facilities at Portsmouth last winter.

The biggest point to come out of the report is that the Division doesn’t think National Grid should be allowed to recoup over $25 million in restoration costs by charging customers. 

“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,” the report reads.

The Division has issued a Notice of Probable Violation to National Grid for a violation of Division gas regulations for failing to notify them of the shutdown.

National Grid released a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying in part that they’ve 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.”

The company went on to say that, while they don’t agree with everything in the report, they appreciate the Division for its diligence in examining the incident, and said that they’ve already started addressing the recommendations in the report, such as “securing additional winter gas supplies, expanding our energy efficiency and demand response programs, and improving long-range planning.”

Governor Gina Raimondo said she’ll comment on the report tomorrow one she’s read it.

© WLNE-TV 2019