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Columbia Gas ordered to stop work in Mass.

State DPU says emergency work only due to ongoing problems

by Bill Kirk, Eagle Tribune

The state Department of Public Utilities has all but ordered Columbia Gas to cease operations in Massachusetts as a result of last year's gas disaster and more recent gas leaks and quality control issues that have plagued residents and businesses in the Merrimack Valley.

Columbia Gas is going along with the request.

On Thursday, the chairman of the DPU, Matthew Nelson, penned a letter to Columbia Gas president Mark Kempic, saying the company could only perform emergency work in the state.

"In recent weeks, the DPU has become aware of several troubling issues involving the operations of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts," he wrote. "On Sept. 11, 2019, you reported issues relating to service lines that were abandoned during the restoration work in Merrimack Valley following last year’s gas line event.

"Additionally, while investigating a Grade 1 gas leak in Lawrence on Sept. 27, 2019, the DPU discovered that, during the restoration efforts, Columbia Gas failed to follow required procedures ... . If the company had followed those procedures ... the subsequent Grade 1 gas leak, service shutoffs, and forced evacuations" would have been avoided.

In particular, the company had failed to remove "gate-boxes," which enable workers on the street to gain access to gas valves. On Sept. 27, a company doing work on water valves mistakenly turned a gas valve in one of the gate-boxes. That resulted in a plastic high-pressure gas line that had been inserted into the old cast-iron gas line being perforated and releasing gas and causing a mass evacuation.

Nelson noted that the DPU's concerns "are significant, and have led to the opening of multiple new investigations."

As a result, he said, "unless the Department explicitly approves specific requests to complete other work, Columbia Gas shall perform only emergency work on its gas distribution system throughout its service territories," which includes regions around Lawrence, Springfield and Brockton.


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