PUC: Construction work likely the cause of ruptured gas line

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As crews spent the day repairing a gas main that forced the closure of I-195 in Providence Wednesday night, officials were revealing new information about what may have caused the dangerous leak.

Around 8:15 p.m. an underground steel pipe near a National Grid take station gave way, sending plumes of natural gas pouring into the air with 100 pounds of pressure. A take station is where pressure is reduced from a high-pressure gas so it can be routed to customers. The force of the leak was so strong, witnesses said it sounded like a jet engine.

Chief Compliance Inspector Don Ledversis for the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities & Carriers said it appears construction work near the main may have caused the malfunction.

“The pipeline belongs to National Grid. They were not working on this pipeline at the time. An outside contractor from Massachusetts was working around the pipeline,” Ledversis said.

Officials said the contractor – United Civil of Middleton, Mass. – had been working on Spectra’s interstate gas pipeline.

“At this point, we’re going to issue a notice of probable violation to the Massachusetts company for not securing that pipe. When you undermine a pipe you have to make sure that it’s stable,” Ledversis said. “We believe the incident occurred because it was not shored up properly – possibly due to vibration, expansion, contraction – it moved.”

Eyewitness News reached out to Spectra for comment and received the following response:

“We understand that National Grid will be conducting an investigation into the event. We and National Grid had personnel at the site while performing the work and there are no reports that the pipe was struck or damaged,” said Arthur Diestel, director of stakeholde outreach for Enbridge – Spectra’s parent company.

The leak continued for three hours while crews worked to find the correct shutoff valves. They had to make sure they didn’t increase pressure or cut service to tens of thousands of customers.

There were two valves close to the leak, but officials said it was too dangerous to access them.

Ledversis said remote-controlled valves could have cut the response time.

“Those are going in, believe it or not, next week,” he said. “Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s what was going to happen there.”

Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Rhode Island Hospital lost gas service for several hours.

“They were able to restore gas to Rhode Island Hospital at about 3 o’clock this morning and some other commercial businesses,” Pare said.

Ambulances into Rhode Island Hospital were detoured while the leak was active and officials were particularly worried about rescues coming from Southeastern Massachusetts, because of the highway closures.

Pare said surrounding communities were alerted so they’d have time to figure out routes or divert to another hospital. He said before the interstate reopened, firefighters went up onto the highway with gas monitors to ensure the gas had dissipated.

No one was hurt in the incident.