Crews in Rhode Island scrambled to restore natural gas service following an outage to 7,100 Newport County customers on Jan. 21, following a sudden loss of pressure to the system supplying gas to their homes, said Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said at a Jan. 25 press conference.

Gov. Raimondo immediately declared a state of emergency to assist residents without power in the heavily impacted communities of Newport and neighboring Middleton. The cause of the accident is unknown, but the state Dept. of Public Utilities and federal pipeline regulators have opened an investigation, she said.

An Enbridge spokeswoman stated its initial analysis indicates the primary causes for the incident “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.” Other contributing factors may have exacerbated the conditions leading to the incident, she added.

She said there was no connection between the Rhode Island incident and a gas pipeline explosion in Ohio

On the evening of Jan. 21, National Grid shut off gas “as a precaution due to a low transmission supply issue from our natural gas supplier—Algonguin Gas Transmission Co.”

Approximately 1,000 field and support personnel were on the ground assisting in the multiple-day restoration effort.

The gas system in Middletown was brought back to full pressure on Jan 22 and crews have since been working continuously on relights.  As of Jan. 24, 301 of 340 affected homes had been relit.

The same day, crews shut off more than 6,300 of the 6,400 meters in Newport in the heavily impacted town.

Terry Sobolewski, chief customer officer for National Grid, said at a Jan. 25 press conference that crews had completed phase one restoration, completing all 6,400 meter shutoffs in Newport and had begun phase two repressurization of the system. “It will take several hours as we inspect, verify and monitor the system,” he said.

Ross Turrini, chief gas engineer, said relighting will not take place until system repressurization is complete, which could take a few days. After completing quality control checks to assure every Newport customer meter had been shut off, the repressurization procedure was initiated on Jan 25. 

The repressurizing process involves opening the valve, and introducing gas into the repressurizing main which already contains gas and wait until the system stabilizes at 8 in of water column pressure, Turini said.

Relights in Newport are expected this evening at earliest or by tomorrow afternoon.

The incident comes four months after Columbia Gas residents in north of Massachusetts were ravaged by the Sept. 13 gas explosions and fires that killed one man.