NTSB: CO. SIGNED OFF ON DISASTER
Says workers followed Columbia’s plan
The feds say the contractors whose work kicked off the Merrimack Valley explosions were merely carrying out the work plan Columbia Gas set up.
The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report yesterday on the catastrophic gas system failure last month that caused dozens of fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover and killed a teenager, stating that Columbia signed off on all the work its contractor was doing that resulted in the lines becoming overpressurized.
“Columbia Gas developed and approved the work package executed on the day of the accident,” the report says of the Sept. 13 incident that continues to leave many in the area without gas. “The work package did not account for the location of the sensing lines or require their relocation to ensure the regulators were sensing actual system pressure. The work was performed in accordance with steps laid out in the work package.”
Columbia said in a statement, “The company is fully cooperating with the NTSB and provided information to assist in its ongoing investigation into relevant facts related to the event, the probable cause, and its development of safety recommendations.”
The gas company said it couldn’t comment further because of the ongoing investigation, but said it has suspended work on the type of system where this problem happened as the company updates procedures.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said, “The preliminary report raises more questions than answers about how the Merrimack Valley disaster occurred,” and announced plans to hold a press conference about it this morning.
Brendan Moss, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Baker, said that the state Department of Public Utilities is hiring an independent evaluator to assess the safety of pipeline infrastructure throughout the state.
The fires and explosions damaged 131 buildings, destroying five, according to the NTSB. In addition to Leonel Rondon, the 18-year-old killed in an explosion, 21 people including two firefighters were taken to hospitals, the report states.
The report details the pipereplacement project at the intersection of South Union and Salem streets in South Lawrence, where contractors were exchanging a new gas main for an aging one.
After the crews disconnected the old pipe, the pressure sensors in it continued to function — sending data to the pressure regulator that the line pressure was dropping. In response, the regulator fully opened up, putting more gas pressure than the pipes could handle, according to the NTSB.
UNCOVERING BLAME: A burned-out home, top, on Jefferson Street in Lawrence. Workers, above, prepare for gas line installation.