By Barbara Taormina
The state legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy held a hearing this week on the safety of the Commonwealth’s natural gas infrastructure, and Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley was there to voice Malden’s concerns.
O’Malley has been a persistent critic of National Grid and particularly of the ongoing lockout of the company’s natural gas workers, which he believes puts the city at risk for natural gas–related problems and accidents.
At this week’s hearing, O’Malley presented evidence of what he described as unreported or incorrectly reported natural gas incidents in Malden which he said show a pattern of negligence by National Grid to keep the natural gas infrastructure safe and reliable. O’Malley cited the manhole explosions at Main and Florence Streets on Dec. 18, 2016, the gas incident at Main and Clinton Streets this past July and the mismarking of a residential gas line on Hamlett Place last month as examples of serious missteps on the part of National Grid.
“During the July incident, the construction crew working on a water line hit the allegedly mismarked gas line,” O’Malley told the committee. “Luckily, the Nov. 1, 2018, mismarking incident was realized by another construction crew before another dangerous leak or explosion was caused.”
O’Malley stressed to the committee that the Commonwealth has some of the oldest gas infrastructure in the world and Malden has some of the Commonwealth’s oldest gas pipes.
“It is my belief that National Grid has failed to maintain a safe and reliable natural gas system,” O’Malley told the committee. “In order to ensure the safety and timely replacement of our ancient gas lines, I respectfully request that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, through the oversight powers of the Joint Committee, the Department of Public Utilities and in partnership with the federal government, require National Grid to develop a new Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP) to replace its failing and dangerous infrastructure.”
Although last fall’s natural gas disaster in Merrimack Valley has led a lot of local and state officials to begin to pay closer attention to natural gas infrastructure, O’Malley’s concerns, which date back to the 2016 manhole explosions, grew more urgent over the summer with the National Grid lockout. He has repeatedly criticized the international corporation for putting the profits of shareholders ahead of the safety of ratepayers.
“I hope to continue to push the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to take the bull by the horns and ensure that qualified workers are put back to work so that we can start replacing unsafe natural gas infrastructure that is over a century old,” he said.