COVID-19 And Public Health

The Northeast Gas Association (NGA) continues to monitor the impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Our priority remains the health of our staff, our industry partners and members, and the general public. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of our region and the whole nation as we grapple with this challenging and continuing public health emergency.

The states in our region are still in the midst of a phased re-opening, which emphasizes an incremental and cautious approach. We remain vigilant and hopeful for our communities, region and nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is maintaining the latest information on this disease on its web site: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

We urge you to learn more and keep-up-to-date on this situation.

Since March, NGA has been holding regular teleconferences of its committees of industry personnel to discuss the ongoing situation, response plans, and best practices.

In light of this public health emergency, we have reassessed our schedule of events, from conferences and workshops to committee meetings, to be sensitive to the health of all involved and the restrictions on travel and group activities.

Our conferences and workshops in recent months have been reconfigured as webinars and this virtual format will likely be our meeting format for the remainder of 2020 - depending on the status of the public health situation. Please explore our web site for updates on our individual events.

Some other updates are provided below for your information.

NGA Coordinating Utility Discussions

NGA staff - in support of specific efforts by its natural gas distribution company members - has had conversations with multiple representatives of state regulatory agencies' pipeline safety divisions, as well as with the US Department of Energy's Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration (PHMSA), to help companies understand individual state positions on rules and regulations as they strive to serve and protect customers and their utility workforces.
NGA also is convening regular teleconferences with its committees that oversee our comprehensive Operator Qualification and Pipe Joining program, as well as gas control, customer service, and supply chain activities - as well as calls with the three electric system operators in the Northeast on electric-gas operations topics.

Prometric Resumes OQ Testing & Evaluations for NGA Program

In mid-March, Prometric and NGA temporarily suspended OQ testing services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included online testing at Prometric test centers and the delivery of performance evaluations by NGA. In May and June, the Prometric test centers re-opened throughout the Northeast on a staggered schedule. The test centers are now operating while maintaining social distancing and meeting public health requirements. In June, NGA also resumed its performance evaluation work.

Look for more details here: https://www.northeastgas.org/tql-operator.php

Natural Gas Workers are "Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers"

On March 19, CISA released a guidance document identifying essential critical infrastructure workers during the coronavirus response in order to ensure reliable energy for consumers. (CISA is the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.)

For the natural gas sector, the critical functions are listed below.

Natural and propane gas workers:

  • Natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines, including compressor stations
  • Underground storage of natural gas
  • Natural gas processing plants, and those that deal with natural gas liquids
  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities
  • Natural gas security operations center, natural gas operations dispatch and control rooms/centers natural gas emergency response and customer emergencies, including natural gas leak calls
  • Drilling, production, processing, refining, and transporting natural gas for use as end-use fuels, feedstocks for chemical manufacturing, or use in electricity generation
  • Propane gas dispatch and control rooms and emergency response and customer emergencies, including propane leak calls
  • Propane gas service maintenance and restoration, including call centers.

The guidance document can be found online:
https://ferc.gov/media/coronavirus/Guidance-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workforce.pdf

FERC and NARUC Join Efforts to Help Ensure Essential Services During Pandemic

On March 26, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) announced they are joining forces in their COVID-19 pandemic response efforts to help ensure the reliability of the nation's energy transmission and distribution systems. As the first step in this partnership, FERC and NARUC are urging all state authorities to designate utility workers as essential to the nation's critical infrastructure.

The U.S. Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a memorandum March 19 designating a full list of essential workers: healthcare and public health, law enforcement, public safety and first responders, food and agriculture, energy, water and wastewater, transportation and logistics, public works, communications and information technology, other community-based government operations and essential functions, critical manufacturing, hazardous materials, financial services, chemical and industrial and the defense industrial base.

The federal government grants authority for such designations to state governments. FERC and NARUC back these designations in support of the energy, water and telecommunications industries, finding it in the best interests of the nation for state and local authorities to assign essential worker status to employees serving in these areas of critical infrastructure.
Look for further details online:
https://ferc.gov/news-events/news/ferc-naruc-join-efforts-help-ensure-essential-services-during-pandemic

PHMSA Issues Stay of Enforcement for Pipeline Operators Due to COVID-19 Outbreak

On March 20, PHMSA announced that "is continuing to monitor the effects the COVID-19 outbreak is having on the nation's pipeline operations. As a result, the PHMSA's Pipeline Safety Program issued a Stay of Enforcement to state pipeline safety program managers, pipeline operators, and operators of gas storage and liquefied natural gas facilities. The document explains that the agency will temporarily halt its enforcement of compliance with operator qualification, control room management, and employment drug testing requirements, but does not relieve operators of their safety responsibility to use trained, non-impaired workers to perform operation and maintenance tasks. The document also encourages state pipeline safety partners to consider suspending certain enforcement efforts for noncompliance in the interest of prompt and efficient pipeline safety activities related to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak." The link to the document can be found here:
https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/news/phmsa-stay-enforcement-covid-19

PHMSA Issues Guidance to State Pipeline Safety Programs Regarding COVID-19

On March 19, PHMSA announced that "In light of the recent actions taken by federal, state, and local government agencies in response to the current COVID-19 outbreak, PHMSA is providing guidance to its state pipeline safety partners on ways to continue to effectively execute their shared pipeline safety mission. The guidance also explains actions PHMSA will take in its efforts to continue to support the activities of state pipeline safety programs during this time. PHMSA recognizes the resources of its state partners may be limited for the foreseeable future and encourages state pipeline safety programs to consider the guidance as they proceed with their oversight activities." The link to the guidance document can be found here:
https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/news/phmsa-guidance-state-partners-regarding-covid-19

PHMSA Issues Notice of Enforcement Discretion for Pipeline Operators Due to COVID-19 Outbreak

On April 22, PHMSA stated that it "understands pipeline operators are continuing to encounter personnel and other resource constraints due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Considering these issues, PHMSA's Pipeline Safety Program issued a Notice of Enforcement Discretion to gas transmission pipeline operators which explains that the agency will temporarily suspend enforcement related to the compliance with certain new gas pipeline safety regulations. The recently issued Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines: MAOP Reconfirmation, Expansion of Assessment Requirements, and Other Related Amendments Final Rule, requires gas pipeline operators to meet certain compliance deadlines specific to 49 CFR Part 192 by July 1, 2020. The enforcement discretion allows gas pipeline operators through December 31, 2020 to comply with these deadlines before PHMSA resumes its normal enforcement processes." Look for further details online:
https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/news/phmsa-issues-notice-enforcement-discretion-gas-pipeline-operators#.XqH4K8F-Pbs.twitter

We will continue to post additional information as it becomes available.

Our best wishes for good health and safety to all.