After Pipeline Explosion, NSPE Wins Case for Ending License Exemption

Thursday, January 3, 2019

NSPE’s major effort to improve public safety in the aftermath of a deadly pipeline explosion in Massachusetts has resulted in a new state law. On December 31, Governor Charlie Baker signed emergency legislation that requires a licensed professional engineer to approve plans for engineering work associated with natural gas infrastructure in the commonwealth.

Following the Merrimack Valley gas line explosions in September, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the incident and consulted with NSPE. The Society and NTSB staff spent several weeks discussing the engineering licensing process, its standards, and NSPE’s opposition to licensing law exemptions. NSPE shared several documents, including its industrial exemptions position statement and fact sheet, and public testimony from professional engineers.

Among the NTSB's recommendations: Massachusetts should eliminate the professional engineer licensing exemption for public utilities and require a PE to seal public utility engineering drawings. In addition, NTSB made an urgent recommendation that NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas, revise the engineering plan and constructability review process across all of its subsidiaries to ensure that a PE signs and seals all applicable construction documents. NiSource owns and operates the gas distribution system in which the explosions occurred.

NSPE believes that Governor Baker took an important step by heeding the call for professional engineer oversight and signing the legislation, which took effect immediately. The Society encourages more states to follow Massachusetts’ lead in ending engineering license exemptions and elevating the PE’s role in protecting the public. Currently, 53 states and territories allow licensing exemptions in some form while 16 states allow exemptions for public utilities.