, Salem, MA

Local News

September 11, 2013

DEP: Electric cables have leaked oil into harbor


The high-voltage transmission lines that run about 1 mile from Fort Avenue to Canal Street have been making news recently as National Grid prepares to replace them. Although the utility plans to install new lines though a neighborhood near Salem Common, it says it intends to remove the old cables buried under Derby and Canal streets because they are leaking fluid.

Recently, however, two Salem city councilors asked for a waiver of the DEP regulation so a buried transmission line can remain in the ground to avoid digging up Derby, New Derby and Canal streets.

In a letter, Councilors Josh Turiel and Bob McCarthy argued that the cable “is not presenting any hazard to the city at this time, nor is it likely to as the insulation material is essentially simple mineral oil.”

They said Massachusetts is the only state with a regulation requiring removal of cables with mineral oil.

National Grid said these old cables have leaked in the past and need to be removed. They have repaired the cables numerous times and, on occasion, removed contaminated soil, a spokesman said.

“We have consistently said that these cables are nearing the end of their serviceable life and need to be replaced to make sure National Grid can continue to provide safe and reliable electric service to the city of Salem and the North Shore distribution system,” said David Graves of National Grid.

Nick Helides, who keeps his boat at Pickering Wharf, said he has seen an oily sheen on the water for years and is convinced it is caused by oil from the leaking transmission cables. It’s worse on a rainy day like yesterday, he said.

“You can go down there and actually see the stuff,” he said.

Tom Dalton can be reached at

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