Moratorium On Natural Gas Hookups May Be Lifted Soon

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Public Utilities

Crews replace a gas main on Route 28 in Chatham last month. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

HARWICH Though National Grid will be continuing their replacement of mains and equipment in some locations, enough work will be complete in the next few weeks to allow the utility to lift the moratorium on new natural gas connections, a spokesman said.

“We have a small section in Harwich that we’re still working on,” Robert Kievra said. “When that Harwich section is completed, approximately 14 miles of the 18-mile project will be finished. That is enough to enable us to lift the moratorium.”

The construction will correct a serious deficiency in the Cape's natural gas infrastructure, which first came to light in 2014. During inspections that summer, gas crews discovered that some of the equipment on the gas line didn’t meet safety standards. The equipment in question was being operated at 200 pounds per square inch of pressure, though it was rated to operate at a much lower pressure. National Grid officials reduced the pressure in the line to 125psi.

Because of the resulting loss in capacity, the utility imposed a moratorium, stretching from Barnstable to Eastham, on all new natural gas connections until the new equipment could be installed. Since that time, contractors have been unable to connect new homes to natural gas, and homeowners have been unable to add new gas appliances.

The utility paid a $1.25 million fine to state regulators because of the deficiencies in the pipe and began the ambitious replacement of 18 miles of pipe in Yarmouth and points east. Work in Harwich took place along Route 39 near the roundabout and south along Depot Road to South Harwich, as well as on Great Western Road from Dennis to Depot Street, running north toward Brewster.

“The remaining four miles are in Brewster, and that work is expected to be completed by the end of 2019,” Kievra said. That time frame is consistent with the utility’s previous estimates.

“During the moratorium, the system operated safely and reliably,” he said. “There were no pressure or volume issues.”

Many new homes built during the moratorium were outfitted with propane heaters and appliances, giving owners the option to convert to natural gas once the connection ban was lifted. Those heaters, appliances and pipes need to be inspected, modified and certified by a licensed contractor before they can connect to the natural gas system. Some contractors, including Dennis-based Hall Oil, Gas and Electric, are specifically marketing their services to property owners seeking to convert from propane to natural gas.

“Once we lift the moratorium this spring, customers interested in obtaining natural gas service can contact us through out customer service department at 1-800-233-5325,” Kievra said.