Enbridge admits ‘equipment malfunction’ a factor in R.I. outage [The Providence Journal, R.I.]

Jan. 25–PROVIDENCE — Pipeline operator Enbridge has for the first time publicly acknowledged that an “equipment malfunction” was a factor that caused the ongoing natural gas outage on Aquidneck Island.

In a statement released late Wednesday night in response to repeated Journal inquiries, the Canadian company that owns the Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline, one of the major lines that brings the fossil fuel into New England, said the malfunction “temporarily restricted available natural gas supplies.”

But the company offered no further details on what equipment failed, where it was located or what part it played in the drop in pressure in the distribution system that forced utility National Grid to shut off service in parts of Newport and Middletown. And Enbridge maintained that the malfunction was not the primary cause of the disruption that has left thousands of homes and businesses without heat.

“The low-pressure situation was a complex event with a number of potential contributing factors,” spokeswoman Marylee Hanley wrote in an email. “Our initial analysis indicates that the primary causes of the loss of natural gas service in the Newport area of Rhode Island were an unusually high demand for natural gas on the Algonquin pipeline due to cold temperatures that exceeded the system’s supply capability, coupled with an equipment malfunction, which temporarily restricted available natural gas supplies.”

“There appears to be a number of other contributing factors that may have exacerbated the conditions leading to the loss of service,” she continued. “Our team is working diligently to review each in closer detail. We continue to collaborate with the local gas company and assist in any way we can with gas service restoration efforts.”

National Grid, which takes gas from the Algonquin pipeline and distributes it to customers around Rhode Island, said that a valve on Enbridge’s side of the gas network, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, failed Monday morning, causing a cascade of impacts that hit hardest on Aquidneck Island. A spokesman for the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said that Enbridge notified the agency of the incident and mentioned a valve problem.

In a previous statement, Enbridge said nothing about an equipment problem and attributed the outage to cold weather that led to higher demand. Natural gas experts have questioned that explanation, saying that state regulators factor in the possibility of cold snaps when approving gas supply plans. They also said that if gas supplies were constrained, power plants that use gas for electric generation should have gone off line. But there was no dip in gas-fired generation in New England on Monday, according to data from the operator of the regional power grid.

akuffner@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7457

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