NTSB: CO. SIGNED OFF ON DIS­AS­TER

Says work­ers fol­lowed Columbia’s plan

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By SEAN PHILIP COT­TER — sean.cot­ter@boston­her­ald.com

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.

STAFF PHOTO, ABOVE, BY AN­GELA ROWLINGS; PHOTO, TOP, COUR­TESY OF NTSB

UN­COV­ER­ING BLAME: A burned-out home, top, on Jef­fer­son Street in Lawrence. Work­ers, above, pre­pare for gas line in­stal­la­tion.

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