Lawmakers Follow Up on Lack of Inspectors in Merrimack Valley Prior to Explosions

The NBC10 Boston Investigators uncovered documents in September that warned Massachusetts state regulators could be putting the public at risk because of a lack of inspectors, and on Monday congressional leaders confronted those responsible.

NBC10 Boston Investigators reported that just weeks before the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, there were only two state investigators checking the work of utilities in the field and one in the office. Federal regulators recommend at least 10 inspectors for the job.

Congressman Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) grilled Energy Secretary Matthew Beaton about the number of engineers tasked with inspecting more than 21,000 miles of pipeline that run through Massachusetts.

Moulton pointed out to Beaton that two inspectors were responsible for enough pipeline to stretch from Boston to San Francisco and back nearly seven times.

"Do you think that is adequate?" asked Moulton.

"No," answered Beaton. "We have since taken the action to post new positions and we will be at an all-time high of 14 inspectors once the hires are made."

"The bottom line right now is we have enough inspectors for each one to be responsible for a pipeline from here to Dallas," Moulton said. "I think we need to significantly increase that goal."

The National Transportation Safety Board urged the state to take what it called "urgent" steps to increase oversight. The Department of Public Utilities has now hired an independent evaluator to assess the system and filed legislation requiring utilities to have a certified engineer sign off on any work that could pose a significant risk to public safety.

The Sept. 13 gas explosions killed one person, injured dozens more, damaged more than 100 homes and left thousands without heat or hot water in the Merrimack Valley communities of Lawrence, North Andover and Andover.

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