Grid monitors gas leak, but homeowner fearful

The Cranston Herald ·

National Grid’s been by Theresa Tortolani’s house seven times already to patch up a gas line that’s been springing leaks for the past year and a half. But National Grid has made the decision that it won’t be replaced until next spring because the whole line has to be dug up.

This issue is part of the reason Cranston State Representative Robert Lancia is proposing a study commission of National Grid’s business practices in the upcoming House session.

Although Lancia’s goal is to straighten out what he sees to be money-hungry practices by National Grid in the long-term, Tortolani just wants to feel safe in her home as the cold winter months approach.

The issue she faces now is that a 20 foot section of gas line running underneath her front yard, which travels on top of a water pipe underneath her house, has been springing leaks as often as twice in two weeks during November.

In fact, because the water pipe runs into her basement, she began smelling strong gas fumes near her washer and dryer in a recent incident, which prompted her to call the fire department. Firefighters told her to call National Grid, which she was all too familiar with doing.

Every time National Grid comes, she said, they have to tear up the whole section of pavement covering the gas pipe on the road, which Tortolani thinks costs more than it would to just replace.

National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse said that the company is addressing the problem by visiting the “gas main” once every week to check on it. Because there aren’t any type 1 gas leaks at the site yet, Kresse said, it is not of the utmost priority.

“We replace more than sixty miles of gas main line a year,” he said. “We couldn’t fit this into this year’s cycle, but it will be a priority in next year’s main replacement work.”

He also said that if something does need to be done, which they will be able to tell during their weekly tests, National Grid would move it up to priority one.

He added in a statement that safety is National Grid’s top priority, and right now there is no threat to public safety at Tortolani’s gas line. They will continue to monitor the line, he continued, and have made the replacement of the line a top priority for next year’s work plan, which begins in early April.

Tortolani commended the work of National Grid in patching up the pipe all this time, but would rather just have it replaced.

“They do an excellent job when they come, they’re very compassionate, they come in all types of weather” she said referring to the workers who come to her house for periods of up to six hours straight. “But their hands are tied because of the higher ups. These visits aren’t solving the problem.”

A recent development could be considered both good and bad news. The bad news is that the most recent testing of gas in her water pipes showed that .80 percent of the water was gas, and National Grid told her that if it went up much higher she’d be in danger and would have to evacuate. The good news is that this has prompted them to prioritize her issue higher on their list, she said, but they still won’t replace it until next year unless it does get to that priority one designation Kresse talked about.

“If I have to evacuate, where does that leave me? Does the house go up in flames?” she questioned. “This is just adding to my problems and it’s very scary. It’s quite disturbing.”

Her plan would be to stay with her daughter in this worst-case scenario, but she also doesn’t know if she’s every going to wake up in the middle of the night to an explosion or gas leak in her house.

“For the man hours and trucks they used in the last year and a half they could have just replaced the part of the pipe rotting,” Tortolani said.

The case with Tortolani is one of the reasons why Representative Lancia is proposing a commission to study the practices of National Grid.

“This highlights the problem as I see it with National Grid,” he said in a phone interview. “They can’t fix this until April? The governor herself said she wants National Grid to open their books. We had a debacle with storm response, too.”

In the release, he states that the electric rate for Rhode Islanders has increased 53 percent, raising the cost of energy from $6.3 cents per kilowatt hour to $9.5 cents. The release also claims that gas customers will see an increase of about $65 more per month. Lancia wants to open up the National Grid financial books and look at “why the rates continue to increase and why the response time to the recent storm was so slow.”

Kresse declined to comment on Lancia’s proposal, although he did say in a statement that the increase would be around $65 per year, not $65 per month.