Columbia Gas work lim­ited

DPU cuts off non­emer­gency ef­forts

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By KATH­LEEN McKIER­NAN — kath­leen.mckier­nan @boston­her­ald.com

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.”

STAFF PHOTO, RIGHT, BY FAITH NINIVAGGI; STAFF FILE PHOTO, ABOVE, BY AN­GELA ROWL­INGS

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.

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