Columbia Gas work limited
DPU cuts off nonemergency efforts
In the latest blow to beleaguered Columbia Gas, the state Department of Public Utilities has ordered a moratorium on all nonemergency work by the company until Dec. 1, following the release of the National Transportation Safety Board’s report faulting the company for the fatal gas explosion in September that devastated the Merrimack Valley.
“Following the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report and as a result of ongoing inspections of Columbia Gas’s gas system, the Department of Public Utilities, under its regulatory authority over the gas distribution system, has ordered Columbia Gas to impose a moratorium on all work, except for emergency and compliance work, across the company’s entire service territory until at least December 1, 2018,” said Peter Lorenz of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The order, Lorenz said, will not impede the emergency restoration services in the Merrimack Valley. The state is also in the middle of hiring an independent evaluator to assess the safety of pipeline infrastructure throughout Massachusetts.
The order comes after a series of explosions and fires from the natural gas lines rocked Lawrence, Andover and North Andover in September, killing one person and injuring 25 others.
Columbia Gas is now replacing 50 miles of pipeline in the area and all gas appliances in all affected homes and businesses. A similar moratorium was ordered on National Grid after an overpressurization inci- dent in Woburn earlier this week, which did not cause any explosions. A preliminary report by the NTSB released this week found over-pressurization during a pipeline replacement project led to the explosions and fires.
Joe Hamrock, president and CEO of NiSource Inc., parent company of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, said the company is prohibited from discussing the disaster as the investigation is ongoing.
“However, we can say that, because safety is our top priority, in the hours immediately after the incident we suspended similar work and enhanced procedures related to our low pressure systems,” Hamrock said in a statement. “We saw these as responsible steps to take in the aftermath of the incident and while the facts were being gathered.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren are calling for a congressional hearing to be held in the Merrimack Valley in November.
“It is pretty clear that Columbia Gas was woefully unprepared,” Markey told the Herald yesterday. “We are going to have to make sure we have regulations in place that guarantee that every natural gas company, not just Columbia Gas but every natural gas company in the United States, has a safety manual that does work to prevent the accident and is in place if an accident does occur, to respond quickly so that you can limit the damage that is done to innocent people.
“My belief is that Columbia Gas should have to pay whatever damage has been done to any business or any person up in Merrimack Valley,” Markey added. “They cannot shortchange those citizens. Columbia Gas is a company with an $8.8 billion market capitalization. They are a wealthy company. They can afford to pay whatever it takes to make all the people in the Merrimack Valley 100 percent whole again.”
MORATORIUM: U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, right, responds to a NTSB report faulting Columbia Gas for the Merrimack Valley disaster, which workers make repairs from, above, in Lawrence.