Columbia Gas to Replace Merrimack Valley Distribution System After Fires, Explosions, a Death and Dozens of Injuries

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts committed to a complete replacement of the natural gas distribution system in the Merrimack Valley after gas-fueled fires and explosions in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover on Thursday, Sept. 13. One person was killed, dozens were injured and thousands were displaced by the fires and explosions, The Boston Globe and other news outlets reported.

Columbia Gas is developing a plan in collaboration with the office of the governor of Massachusetts and all stakeholders to replace the entire affected 48-mile cast-iron and bare-steel pipeline system in the towns of Andover, Lawrence and North Andover, the company said in a Sept. 16 statement. The new system will consist of plastic distribution mains and service lines, and safety features such as pressure regulation and excess flow valves at each premise, the company said.

The system serves approximately 8,600 customers, the company said. The cause of the fires and explosions is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“This unprecedented event requires unprecedented action,” said NiSource President and CEO Joe Hamrock. NiSource, Merrillville, Ind., is the parent company of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. “With this incident, a life was tragically lost and thousands of other lives were directly affected. We lost the trust of this community and are one hundred percent committed to restoring safety, confidence and peace of mind for everyone in this community. Over time, we hope to earn back the trust we lost during this incident.”

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is in the midst of a multiyear program to modernize its gas distribution system and replace cast iron and bare steel pipeline systems across the state, the company said.

Restoration efforts continued in the communities affected, the company said in its Sept. 16 statement. Residents in the Merrimack Valley began to return home as of 7 a.m., Sept. 16, the company said. Electric power was restored to virtually all residents as of the afternoon of Sept. 16, according to the statement. Crews remained in the area to assist residents as they returned to their homes, and to answer any questions they may have about gas safety. NiSource and its insurance carriers are working to process damage claims submitted by customers, according to the statement.

NiSource Inc., a utility company, serves approximately 3.5 million natural gas customers and 500,000 electric customers across seven states through its local Columbia Gas and NIPSCO brands.

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