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Massachusetts holding hearings on gas disaster

by Billl Kirk, Eagle Tribune

The state Department of Public Utilities announced recently it would be holding two public hearings as part of its investigation into the Sept. 13, 2018 Columbia Gas disaster.

One hearing will be held Jan. 29 in Lawrence and another is scheduled for Feb. 10 in Andover.

The hearings are being held to gather testimony from residents and business owners affected by the blast that damaged or destroyed 131 homes and businesses, injured 22 people and caused the death of one person.

The DPU is also accepting written testimony.

The input from people affected by the blast is part of a two-pronged investigation by the DPU.

In one investigation, the state utilities watchdog is looking at the gas company’s responsibility for the incident, as well as its restoration efforts following the explosions.

The second investigation is looking at the gas company’s preparation and response to the incident, including whether there was “safe and ... prompt restoration.”

The second investigation, which appears to be much broader, will also look into whether the company disseminated information in a timely manner, and how well it communicated with state, municipal and public safety officials as well as the DPU itself.

The state investigation follows the federal investigation, which was completed by the National Transportation Safety Board last fall.

That report found that Columbia Gas was at fault due to “weak engineering management” on a project to replace an old cast iron main with a new polyethylene main. During that work, the construction crew failed to relocate pressure sensors to the new line. When they started pumping gas through the new line, there was no sensor indicating that there was any gas in the line, so the pressure continued to increase. Eventually it increased so high that it forced high-pressure gas into what was originally designed as a low-pressure system.


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