Columbia Gas ordered to stop all 'non-emergency' work pending investigations

BOSTON — Columbia Gas, the utility company at the center of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions and fires has been ordered to stop all "non-emergency" work pending the outcome of several investigations.

In a letter to Mark Kempic, the President of Columbia Gas, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities says the company failed to follow required safety procedures when repairing gas lines from the Sept. 13, 2018 gas explosions.

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Mass. DPU highlights they "have become aware of several troubling issues involving the operations of Columbia Gas" in the state. DPU officials also said Columbia Gas, on Sept. 11 of this year, reported issues relating to service lines that were abandoned during the restoration work in the Merrimack Valley following last year's tragedy.

Recently, DPU officials found that, while investigating the Grade 1 gas leak in Lawrence on Sept. 27, "during restoration efforts, Columbia Gas failed to follow required procedures for the abandonment of gate boxes."

Officials highlight that, should the utility company have followed those procedures, the gate boxes would have been removed or made inaccessible, thus preventing the gas leak from happening.

The DPU has now opened multiple new investigations into Columbia Gas and, as a result, the department is requiring Columbia Gas to halt all of its work, except for emergency work on its gas distribution system, pending the outcome of these investigations.

The restrictions set by the DPU don't apply to Columbia Gas' ongoing work to address the previously mentioned issues with abandoned service and gate boxes in the Merrimack Valley.

In response to the letter, Joe Hamrock, Chief Executive Officer of NiSource, Inc., Columbia Gas' parent company, issued the following statement:

"To ensure our customers can feel safe in their homes and businesses, we will be ceasing non-emergency work in Massachusetts effective immediately. We agree with the Department of Public Utilities that this is the appropriate and responsible course of action. We recognize many have lost their sense of security and we take responsibility for that. While we have taken significant safety steps over the past year, we fully understand that restoring and maintaining the trust and confidence of all our customers and officials will be a continuing process. We will continue to work closely with the DPU and government partners on our shared priority of enhancing safety for our customers and our communities."

State officials have ordered Columbia Gas to complete a number of new safety measures and submit a plan by Monday, addressing more than 2,000 old service lines that were abandoned during its system-wide pipeline upgrade.

This isn't the first time Columbia Gas has been ordered by the DPU to halt all "non-emergency" service.

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