May 17, 2020

Addressing Dangers of Natural Gas

4 min
Gas Purging Safety

Only days before the February 7th blast that killed six people at the Kleen Energy Systems power plant in Middleton, CT, the U.S. Chemical Safety Bo...

Only days before the February 7th blast that killed six people at the Kleen Energy Systems power plant in Middleton, CT, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued urgent recommendations about gas purging safety.

The stern report followed the release of a Safety Bulletin on the same topic by the independent federal agency last September to draw attention to the serious dangers involved in clearing gas lines of air. Workers from O&G Industries were performing the potentially hazardous task when the explosion ripped through the 620-megawatt plant, which was scheduled to come online this June.

The deadly explosion is far from the only incident related to the purging of gas piping into buildings over the past few years and immediately raised questions about safety procedures. A seven-person team from the CSB is investigating the accident as well as state police and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.


The renewed focus on safety comes at a time when the use of natural gas is on the rise and expected to keep growing. By 2018, as coal-fired plants go offline, it is expected to make up 26 percent of the nation’s electricity, up from 20 percent today.

In its most recent report, released three days before the Kleen Energy blast, the CSB reviews the shortcomings of both the national and international fuel gas codes. The CSB notes that neither “explicitly require purged gases to be safely vented outdoors, even when it is feasible to do so.”

They also do not define hazardous conditions or adequate ventilation, fail to require the ventilation of nonessential personnel during the purging of fuel gas lines into occupied buildings, and, finally, do not require the use of combustible gas detectors near open vents, according to the report.

Another natural gas explosion that claimed four lives at the ConAgra Slim Jim production facility in Garner, N.C., in June last year prompted the review and urgent recommendations for change.

The accident occurred during the installation of a gas-fired industrial water heater. Over a period of two and a half hours, gas was intermittingly purged into a utility room as employees came and went, unaware that the release of natural gas exceeded the lower explosive limit. Rather than a combustible air detector, they relied on their sense of smell, none believing that the odor had reached dangerous concentrations. The utility room was also surrounded by potential sources to ignite the accumulating gas, including several unclassified electrical devices.

CSB investigators concluded that to improve safety when gas piping is being purged during maintenance or installation at commercial, public and industrial facilities, the American Gas Association, the National Fire Protection Association and the International Code Council should make four permanent changes to the National Fuel Gas Code.


“Purging flammable gases into building interiors is a recipe for disaster,” said Investigations Supervisor Donald Holmstrom in a statement. “At ConAgra, we determined the accident would not have happened had the gas been vented safely outdoors through a hose or pipe.” 

He continued, “The CSB has examined several other similar accidents in which gas was purged indoors and not detected. We have determined that workers cannot rely on their sense of smell to warn them of danger, in part because people become desensitized to the odorant added to natural gas and propane. Gas detectors must be used.”  

The final recommendations, approved by a 2-1 vote following extensive testimony and public comment, also state that in cases where outdoor venting is not possible, companies would be required to seek a variance from local officials before purging gas indoors, including approval of a risk evaluation and hazard control plan. 

It also requires the use of combustible gas detectors to continuously monitor gas concentrations; the training of personnel about the problems of odor fade and odor fatigue; and warnings against the use of odor alone for detecting releases of fuel gases.  

Other incidents examined by the CSB include: a 1999 explosion at a Ford power plant in Dearborn, Mich., killing six, injuring 38, and causing a $1 billion property loss; a 2008 explosion at a Hilton Hotel under construction in San Diego, Calif., that injured 14 people; a 2005 school explosion in Porterville, Calif., burning two plumbers; and an explosion at a hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 2007 severely burning two plumbers.

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Jul 26, 2021

Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April

Dominic Ellis
3 min
Ofwat confirms levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue

Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.

The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.

Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.  

In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue. 

Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”  

There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:   

  1. Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps. 
  2. Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold. 
  3. Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice. 

Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.

Anita Dougall, CEO and Founding Partner at Sagacity, said Ofwat’s decision comes hot on the heels of Ofgem’s price cap rise in April.

"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.

"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."

United Utilities picks up pipeline award

A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.

The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.

“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.

Camus Energy secures $16m funding

Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent VenturesWave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.

As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.

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