Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Questions (208, 209)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

211 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will explain the circumstances surrounding the underground gas explosion that occurred during the commissioning of the new Bord Gáis pipeline between Midleton in County Cork and Ballyporeen in County Tipperary; the safeguards that are in place to prevent a reoccurrence of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35525/12]

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Mattie McGrath

Question:

212 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he and the Commission for Energy Regulations will confirm that a site specific explosion protection document is in place for each site on the Bord Gáis Network as required under regulation 169 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007, S.I. No. 299 of 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35526/12]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 211 and 212 together.

The matters raised by the Deputy are operational matters for Bord Gáis Éireann (BGÉ) regulated in accordance with the safety regulatory framework established by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and I have no function in this regard.

BGÉ is the owner of the national gas transmission and distribution systems and is mandated with the development and maintenance of the natural gas network under the Gas Act 1976.

The CER is the statutorily independent body charged with all aspects of the licensing of transmission and distribution operators. A key legal responsibility of the CER is to promote the safety of natural gas for customers and the public generally.

The CER's remit also includes specific responsibility for natural gas safety. The Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 empowered the CER to regulate from a safety perspective undertakings involved in gas transmission, distribution, storage, supply and shipping. The CER has established a natural gas safety regulatory framework, including a system for the inspection and testing of natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines.

The CER places obligations on undertakings to ensure that any safety risks associated with their operations are reduced to as low as reasonably practicable. BGÉ's transmission and distribution operations are subjected to ongoing audit and inspection by the CER. Additionally, BGÉ reports quarterly to the CER on a comprehensive range of safety performance indicators, to verify that all operations are in compliance with the overall natural gas regulatory framework.

BGÉ develops, operates and maintains Ireland's natural gas network under a CER regulated Safety Case regime. The CER has a comprehensive audit regime to monitor compliance with Safety Case requirements. I understand that the CER has approved Safety Cases covering the operation and maintenance of the gas network. BGÉ manages gas network maintenance and safety programmes using procedures in accordance with the Safety Cases under the CER Gas Safety Regulatory Framework and the requirements of the Health and Safety Authority. BGÉ prepares Risk Assessments for each major gas site or installation.

The incident referred to by the Deputy occurred in May 2010 as the relevant BGÉ subsidiary, Bord Gáis Networks (BGN), was inspecting the Curraleigh West to Midleton pipeline prior to bringing the pipeline into operation. The gauge used in the inspection showed evidence of having been subjected to abnormally high temperatures. I am advised that there was no evidence of an explosion and the underground pipeline was not breached. Further testing was carried out and the line has been re-tested on a number of subsequent occasions and is operating satisfactorily.

Following this incident, BGN commissioned an independent external review of procedures and, based on the review findings, made amendments to technical commissioning and purging procedures. The national Gas Safety Committee continues to supervise ongoing BGN analysis into the technical issues involved, which the Committee has determined was not a pipeline integrity issue.

In addition, BGÉ also applies a Safety Management System, Technical Audit and Inspection and Training Programmes across all activities of its networks business inclusive of its own staff, business partners and contractors used for Network maintenance and safety works.

Safety is BGÉ's first priority and the company is committed to ongoing development and maintenance of the gas networks and systems to ensure safety and to deliver continuous safety improvement and performance. I have every confidence in BGÉ's priority commitment to safety and in its safety and emergency response service. There is never room for complacency however, and BGÉ itself is engaged in a constant process of safety review and enhancement working with CER.