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.

Update to members on NGA activities in response to COVID-19, from Tom Kiley, NGA, 3-23-20

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.

NGA is 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.

NGA committee meetings are now all by teleconference and/or webinar.

Our conferences and workshops for the upcoming months are on hold. Some have been reconfigured as webinars and others have been rescheduled to future dates, once the public health situation has improved. 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 many natural gas distribution company members - has had conversations with multiple representatives of pipeline safety divisions and the US Department of Energy's Pipeline Hazardous Safety and Materials Administration (PHMSA) to help companies understand individual state positions on rules and regulations as companies strive to interact with and protect customers and their workforces.
NGA has also convened meetings with the committees that oversee our comprehensive Operator Qualification and Pipe Joining program, gas controllers, gas-electric coordination, customer service managers, and Supply Chain activities.

NGA Suspends Testing & Evaluations for OQ Program in Wake of COVID-19

On March 17, NGA announced that online Operator Qualification (OQ) testing and NGA-delivered OQ performance evaluations have been suspended in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prometric, the site of online testing, had made the decision that day to suspend operations at all its test centers in the U.S. and Canada. (Prometric is the internationally known online testing company that administers NGA's online OQ testing.) Prometric expects this shut down to be one month in duration - depending on the situation and how it evolves. NGA supports this decision. Following the Prometric announcement, NGA likewise made the decision to suspend NGA-delivered performance evaluations. Look for further information here:
https://www.northeastgas.org/pdf/nga_oq_testing.pdf

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/media/news-releases/2020/2020-1/03-26-20.asp#.Xn30CXIpDIU

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

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

Our best wishes for good health and safety to all.